Taboos and male points of view


Sarah Lin “Fu Yuanhui tells the world she's on her period after mediocre performance in swimming relay”
Tom Phillips “'It's because I had my period': swimmer Fu Yuanhui praised for breaking taboo”
Helier Cheung “Rio 2016: Support as China's Fu Yuanhui breaks period taboo”
Alanna Vagianos “Olympic Swimmer’s Candid Period Comment Is Wonderfully Relatable” *2


Rose George “My gold medal goes to Fu Yuanhui – for talking openly about her period“


Fu Yuanhui’s statement is being called historic. Since most historical records were written or sung by men, we don’t know much about how women managed their menstruation or how they were treated in the past. Probably, as the historian Sara Read*3 has written, they bled into their clothes, much as many rural Indian women still prefer to do (when I asked one woman whether she would wear a sanitary pad, she said, “we don’t even wear underwear. What do you expect? We are jungle people.”).

There are hints here and there in history that women’s ability to bleed without injury was seen by male medical professionals as either mystical, marvellous or terrifying. Read cites Lazare Rivière*4, author of a 17th-century anatomy guide, as saying that the womb was the source of “six hundred miseries and innumerable calamities”. The Roman author Pliny thought menstrual blood was poisonous and could cause “wine to sour, trees and crops to die, mirrors to cloud, swords to blunt, and dogs to go mad should they chance to taste it”. I’ve always wanted to blunt a sword and cloud a mirror.

As for women who didn’t bleed and were menopausal: they were often locked up. You think your period is just a pain, but given the amount of effort expended by men to keep bleeding women in their place, it’s obviously a superpower.

Daft menstrual taboos persist in certain countries and religions, where menstruating women have amazing power to make pickles go rotten (leading to a delightful Procter & Gamble campaign called Touch the Pickle*5 ), pollute temples, make snakes materialise or sour buffalo milk. But we have no grounds to feel superior in our supposedly enlightened societies. How many women and girls ask for time off work for menstrual cramps, or admit that that’s why they are off sick? How many would admit to feeling appalling and weepy because of premenstrual tension? The only situation in which periods are talked about in the workplace – be it an office or an Olympic stadium – is in banter and jokes, and that is not funny.

This self-censorship is why women have put up with sanitary products being taxed as luxury items for years*6. It’s why it takes on average 10 years for women to be diagnosed with endometriosis, a gynaecological condition linked with painful periods, because either women and girls or GPs – or both – think painful periods are normal. (I was prescribed prescription-strength painkillers for years and never thought to question it; nor did a series of Gps.)


榊原一生「若い選手の無月経に危機感を 疲労骨折で競技断念の恐れ」 *7
武田砂鉄「女性アスリートに「処女性」を望む気配」 *8


上野千鶴子「女性学とは何か」(in 山村嘉己、大越愛子編『女と男のかんけい学』明石書店、1986、pp.1-23)*9

を取り敢えず再度マークしておく。また、Jake Adelstein “Japan’s Women Told to Breed, Not Lead” *10には、「月経」を揶揄した舛添要一の放言への言及あり。