Happy Hallowe’en! It’s a time for witches, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. The witches’ new year is coming this year at a time when the patriarchy seems stronger than ever, despite the inspiring work by so many passionate, powerful activists.
We’re all about ending the period taboo - for one thing, periods are normal, natural and not really worthy of taboo. Additionally, the period taboo has actual negative effects on the health and well-being of menstruators, making it hard to access care that genuinely acknowledges their needs.
What keeps the period taboo going? Yes, that’s right - the goddamn patriarchy. The patriarchy has linked periods and witchcraft for years, giving menstruating folk super-powers that they cannot possibly have.
Let’s start with Pliny the Elder. This non-menstruator sagely assured his readers that the mere presence of a nude, menstruating human would stop windstorms, dull weapons, kill bees, drive dogs mad, stop seedlings from sprouting and scare lightning away. He also recommended period blood as a cure for rabies (if you wore it in a silver bracelet). Essentially, he thought menstruation turned you into a witch for one week a month.
As a perennially exhausted period-haver, this sounds like a lot of work, as well as scientifically unsound. However, Pliny was buddies with Vespasian, Emperor of Rome, so nobody bothered to fact-check his menstrual insights.
When a society believes that every menstrual cramp is God’s way of extracting vengeance for your foremother Eve eating an apple from a forbidden tree, you can expect some #periodshaming. However, at this time, Hildegard von Bingen wrote some of the earliest treatises on managing menstrual problems, including cramps and heavy flow. She managed to avoid being burned as a witch by being a nun with an awesome influencer network (ie. rich people paid for her to go on preaching tours).
W.I.T.C.H // 📷 by Lauren Lancaster
We don’t have a lot of data on how medieval menstruators managed their flow. Our best guesses include homemade cloth pads, or even more likely, freebleeding. Records indicate that frequent pregnancy and disturbing levels of malnutrition meant that menstruation was not necessarily a monthly occurrence. This did not stop mass witch persecutions as people became convinced that women were organizing mass resistance to patriarchal Christendom (they weren’t, and it’s a damn shame).
Science To The Rescue (Except Not)
The rise of the age of reason put a stop to burning your widow neighbour at the stake to blame her for your cow dying, but also gave us the menstrual belt, which is clearly the work of the devil.
Why Is This STILL Happening?!?
The period taboo is still causing problems for people who bleed. From the practice of chhaupadi in Nepal, to the inability of girls in the global South to access enough pads to go to school, to the gaslighting and bullying of trans and gender non-conforming menstruators - folks are still getting a raw deal.
We invite you to practice your white magic this Halloween. Choose reusables. Donate to support feminist causes. Shut down period shaming. And don’t be afraid to cast a hex on the patriarchy, any day of the year.
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