Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Blood 15 by Ottilie Landmark, © the artist (image from elephant.art)
And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. / And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
— Leviticus 15:19-20/24
If men are uncomfortable with childbirth,1 this is a thousandfold true of menstruation. At least with childbirth men have a role to play. They kicked off the process, and they will participate in its fruit. This is not true for menstruation, which is wholly and completely in the women's domain. Men fear this state, hence the various ritualistic, religious rules barring menstruating women from certain activities that survive to this day. Orthodox Judaism, Christianity and Islam all place restrictions on women's involvement, even now.
More generally, the topic of menstruation is avoided, and considered 'unholy'—even by the secularists. I recall my first girlfriend referring to her period as 'the curse'. It's sad that young women and girls are raised to think of their period as unclean, undesirable, and unmentionable, referable only by euphemism, if at all. This is where I am drawn to paganism, where, as in many ancient cultures, a menstruating woman is considered sacred and powerful. For instance, in Cherokee culture menstrual blood is seen as a source of feminine strength, with the power to destroy enemies.2
While Leviticus endorses all the fears and disgust that men have towards women, most especially in this chapter, there is one saving grace. In verse 24 we read that if a man has sexual intercourse with a woman during her period, the man becomes, in a sense, an 'honorary menstruant'. While this does nothing to reduce the stigma of menstruation, it at least distributes the sin between the woman and the man. Small consolation I know, but more than nothing.
As a final note I want to draw attention to the elegant language used by the King James version, apparent in this verse from the line And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him... It's beautifully poetic—and unsurprisingly Shakespearean given that Shakespeare was writing at the same time this translation was created.
1 Yesterday's reflection, Childbirth
2 Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, by Circe Sturm, University of California Press, 2002