Why religion hates women every month
Globally religion uses female biology to subjugate women.
I’m in a beautiful jewellery store in Jaipur. The shopkeeper’s intensity and way of speaking would make an excellent chat show host. He tells me that because my name is Lilah and I am born on the 14th of April I should buy a clear amethyst pendant. The pendant should go between the heart and the throat, for a good love life and to prevent dehydration. The sceptic would argue that he mentioned dehydration because I’m feeling slightly unwell and so mum and dad had loudly told me to ‘drink more’ a few seconds before. The sceptic would also mention that this pedant was vastly more expensive than the good value rings my family had been looking at. Being someone who is incredibly suggestible, who drinks a sip of coffee and immediately feels more energised, I put on the necklace and immediately felt a little better. Despite being Jewish I am intrigued by different religious ideas and love spirituality.
Pleased that I liked it, the shopkeeper informed me that I needed to make sure I wore it all the time for good health and a happy life, except on my period. I asked why that was. He said because in Hinduism (he was an extremely devout Hindu) you are not a pure woman when you are on your period. My spiritual connection with this beautiful necklace shattered, hit by a strong feminist hammer.
On the 1st of January, further south in India in Kerala, 5 million women stood together in a chain against gender inequality. They were specifically protesting against women of menstruating age not being allowed in the Sabarimala temple. Although legally the Indian Supreme Court allowed women to enter freely this September, in practice devout men still prevent them from doing so. It is amazing that so many women have joined together to protest this, forming one of the largest congregations of women in the world. The right to be able to pray equally and in the same places no matter what is going on in their body is clearly an issue close to many Indian women’s hearts.
Women’s biology has been manipulated here to keep them subordinate, acting as a barrier between them and prayer. Being prevented from participating in aspects of their religion also minimises women’s social status and sense of community. When women are aggressively prevented from entering a temple, they are suggested to be lesser, unworthy and dirty. The manipulation of menstruation to subordinate women is present around the world and in most major religions, particularly amongst the more orthodox.
Only a few weeks ago, in Jewish society at my University a Rabbi associated with the society gave a quick speech, amongst other students, on the importance of Judaism to him. He was warm and smiley and gushed about his wife and kids. How lovely I thought. Being orthodox, he mentioned how he doesn’t touch any women other than his wife. I am liberal in my beliefs so was quite shocked to hear him talk so openly about this, even if I was aware that this was the case amongst ultra orthodox jews.
After he finished speaking I took it upon myself to question why he will not touch any woman other than his wife. He said that touch was special and he was saving his just for her. How lovely, I thought again. Note that my ‘how lovelies’ are laced with sarcasm. I pointed out to him how if touch was so special he must not touch anyone, man or woman other than his wife. When I said that he spluttered and said ‘but my wife is a woman’. So it clearly wasn’t that he didn’t want to have physical contact with anyone other than his wife, it was something about women/ the other sex in particular.
When questioning my grandma, who is very wise, about why some orthodox men only touch their wife I stated that I thought it was probably due to preventing temptation. My grandma informed me that although I was partially correct, that it is also because women are seen as unclean as they might be on their periods. This originates from Leviticus where it states ‘Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanness’ (18:19). This view of menstruating women as unclean is why in orthodox Judaism women also aren’t allowed to read from the Torah.
Once again a woman’s role and power is being minimised by religion, with their biology as an excuse. This is particularly evident in something else that this Rabbi said. He said that he had met Nicola Sturgeon and had thought it was too rude not to shake her hand, completely defying his religious beliefs. This highlights the power in place with the idea of not touching women because they might be unclean. It shows that deep down he is aware of the lack of respect for women that this concept accompanies.
This attitude to menstruating women is present to varying extents amongst many more religions than just Hinduism and Judaism. Indeed, in the Qur’an (2:222) it states that “It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure.” As well as this, some Christian denominations prevent women from receiving communion during their period.
I want to dispute the major world religions view of periods and their idea that women on their period are impure. Period blood is just tissue and blood that is in the uterus to feed a growing embryo. Due to the lack of an embryo it is expelled. How could the cosy lining that supports and feeds an embryo (you and me once upon a time) be dirty or impure? Surely it should be the opposite. Period blood is just another bodily fluid, just blood (which should be clean) and normal vaginal fluids.
Therefore the only logical reason behind this belief, passed down between generations, through holy books and religious customs, is as a tool to keep women subordinate and minimise their power. It does this by preventing the opportunities of women in social settings and their religious community. This is not okay. Religion can be great. But ridiculous sexist customs that accompany it need to be shut down. They aren’t holy or fundamental to one’s relationship with God, they just are misogynistic.