The History Of Being A Woman

17 Nov

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…So as uncomfortable as this time of month likes to make me, there are certain moments…(like taking off a corset that’s been squeezing the shit out of me for four hours), wherein I am reminded that there were times when we ladies had it much worse. 

…Pre-drugs. Pre-sanitizing products. Pre-Women’s Lib.

…This morning, as I rolled around in usual pain-induced grumpiness, I decided to go on a little investigation course, and immerse myself in the Historical significance of this monthly curse… on our grandmothers: great-great-great and ancient, and how they dealt with it, and how society dealt (in turn) with them. 

Brave men who seek to understand us better: read on. 

Fellow women: read on with thanks, and infused superhuman wonder at the animals we are and what our bodies do.

***

First of all, it was a curse. 

…And thus, unclean for thousands of years, women at their time of month were (and still are, in some cultures) shunned and restricted from society and sight.  Like with the King in “Love Labours Lost,” women were banished from courts and communities routinely. The Romans attributed the deformity of the god Vulcan to the menstrual intercourse between his parents Juno and Jupiter. In the Biblical times, women on their cycle were forced to camp out, away from the community…making everything they even came in contact with, unclean.  In early European times, they were made to bare no restrictions to the process, or smell, or sight, or change ones garments for fear of increasing bleeding and disease.  The Mae Enga people of Papua New Guinea believed that contact with menstrual blood or a menstruating woman would “sicken a man and cause persistent vomiting.” In the eighteenth century in Saigon, no woman was employed in the opium industry because it was believed that if a menstruating woman were near, the opium would become ruined and bitter. To some it signified a laziness on the woman’s part for not having done her “job” at being consistently knocked up. Women who complained of menstrual cramps were sent to psychiatrists because menstrual cramps were seen as a rejection of one’s femininity…which, until the Victorian era, was seen (together with it’s yet unnamed PMS sister) as a mental deficiency, called simply “Women’s Hysteria.” Freud called it the “bloody sign of a woman’s loss of penis,” as a reminder of woman’s “uncleanliness and inferiority.” And to this day, it keeps women of several religions from practicing in all rights of belief, and in their own temples of worship, before an allotted amount of time and certain purification rituals have taken place.

…Our Lady-History isn’t all bleak, however.  Some cultures revered our body’s cycle, as a sign of strength and fertility. The Cherokee Indian’s believed it was a strength and source of power to destroy enemies. Ancient Roman, Pliny the Elder, wrote that a menstruating woman, uncovering her body, could scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightening. In Ancient Greece, menstrual blood was thought as a wonder cure of disease and used in love charms and to ward off demons. In Africa, it is used in the most powerful magic charms to purify and to destroy, while in France, in the 1700’s, its scent was thought seductive and fertile.

However you have come to loath and/or embrace this monthly happening…whatever name you have given her, she has a history that should be noted…has become a defining form of cultures and words, and bottom line is: we would none of us be here without her. So have a little respect. Let it be noted:

…“Menstruation” is from Old English “mondablot” or “month blood;” in Latin, “menses” means “month;” an Amazon culture’s word for “woman” translates to “the person with a red streak down the leg”; and the term “period” dates back to 1822 meaning “an interval of time.” Furthermore, some menstruation words have much more tainted meanings: “The term ‘ritual’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘R’tu,’ which means ‘menstrual.’ This etymology suggests that ritual in a general sense and menstrual acts have a common origin;” Also, the “word taboo comes from the Polyneisain tapua, meaning both ‘sacred’ and ‘menstruation’… [where] sacred means both ‘set apart’ and ‘cursed’.” ~ Southern Bell Feminist

…Scholars also suggest that pre-modern men and women learned to think numerically by recognizing relationships between groups of numbers that were also units of time measured through menstrual rites…and may have led to humanity’s sense of time, as most early lunar calendars were based on the length of a women’s menstrual cycle. The family of words related to the English word “menstruation” include mental, memory, meditation, mensurate, commensurate, meter, mother, mana, magnetic, mead, mania, man, and moon…while the term “ovary” is from the Latin ovum or “egg.” In classical Latin, ovaries meant “egg keeper.”

…According to randomhistory.com, a woman will spend about 3500 days, in an average of 450 periods in her life. When a girl is born, her complete potential egg supply is born with her. In the womb, she creates about seven million egg cells. At birth, she has two million. By puberty, there are only about 400,00 left, of which fewer than 500 are actually released.

…And as for our history of “treatments” to her woes?

Ancient Egyptians used softened papyrus as rudimentary tampons. Hippocrates notes that the Greeks used lint wrapped around wood. By the mid 1800’s some had begun the use of homemade pads, made of wool, cheesecloth, cottons and rags. The 1870s -1890’s saw a slew of such invented for sale in forms from suspenders to belts, making an alternate disposable option for the wealthy. By 1921, post WWI, Kotex pads were on sale to the masses, a product devised by nurses in the field, using the more absorbable wartime bandages. The modern tampon was invented by Dr. Earle Haas in 1929, trademarked by the brand name Tampax, and was in wide circulation by 1931. And the 1970’s brought in the self adhesive, non-belted, pad.

…Together with drugs and natural remedies to help ease our physical pains, and hormonal roller coasters…we continue this longest of Living History reenactments, today, by the millions, all over the world. It’s kind of a big deal. According to quora.com, out of the 2 billion women of menstrual age in the world right now, 334 million are my blood sisters, this very moment.

334 million.

…At the same time.

…In all races, cultures, incomes, and beliefs.

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

You are a giant pain in my ass (and other places)…but when I look at the history and numbers and facts and fables of your insistence on “Being”…I kinda gotta give you some props. You’ve got some game. Okay…I said it. Now stop fucking with me. I have shit to do today.

Signed,

~D

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One Response to “The History Of Being A Woman”

  1. prewitt1970 November 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    Well, have been educated, living with two woman I certainly know my place as a man, so lady’s i’ll say this with the greatest respect. Thank you, we
    ( men) wouldnt be here with out you.
    B.

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