|Bring Back the Menstrual Hut|
Issue #34 (June 1984)
Bring back the menstrual hut.
[quoteright]People in the Western world are generally proud of the distance they have come from the cultures they once possessed, and of the habits which are still common in much of the rest of the world. However, as we have learned over the past 20 years, our vaunted progress is often illusory. Much that was good about the past has been frivolously abandoned merely because it was old, and when it was too late, people learned why their forbears had preserved their customs. By then, however, it is often too late. The ritual has been lost, the names of the gods forgotten, the hymns reduced to nursery rhymes.
In the case of the menstrual hut, however, we are fortunate. It can still be recovered.
Now, you may well be asking, why do I advocate a return to a practice that grew out of a fear and loathing of this most natural of women's functions, the monthly shedding of the unused lining of the womb? This attitude was accompanied by the fear and loathing of women in general, though which came first is a chicken and egg sort of question that can probably not be answered at this late date.
By way of answering, let us examine the phenomenon. Each month, when a woman's menses arrived, she left her usual home and chores and went to live in the hut. There, shunned by the rest of the village, she waited until her "curse" was past. The list of beliefs about the magical properties of menstruating women and their issue would probably fill a volume of the average encyclopedia. A menstruating woman could curdle milk or blight crops with a glance, despoil weapons and tools with a touch, and steal the strength and luck of any hunter or warrior foolish enough to have intercourse with her. It should not be a surprise that she was isolated and avoided.
But let us look at it from the woman's point of view. She was able to leave behind her children, her husband's family (with whom she probably lived), her usual obligations, and all the water-hauling, food-gathering, pig-tending, fuel-seeking tedium of her everyday life. She was not only free of her usual activities, she was forbidden from engaging in them. It is not recorded what sort of activities were permitted at the menstrual hut. I would surmise that no useful arts were permitted, since any craft engaged in would result in an item that was unclean and therefore unusable.
It was, in short, a rest. And what woman, whether hunter-gatherer, assembly line operator, or modern executive on her way up, could not use five days a month in which nothing was demanded of her, no one would bother her, and she could not be required to postpone her departure until everyone else's needs were taken care of? Furthermore, the revived menstrual hut will have new traditions and a new image. It will not be a place of shame, to which women slink and in which they wait in loneliness and disgrace, until they can purify themselves and come home to wait on their families again. It will be seen as a place of rest and retreat for some of the busiest people in a society: young women, who often have children to care for, household tasks to do and perhaps also a full-time outside job. It should be the place where women come as to a resort, to meet with their friends and leave their ordinary cares to others; where women can practice their menstrual magic, long despised but also recognized as potent, connected as it is with the engendering of human life.
The new menstrual hut will sit among the trees, surrounded by a high wall to keep intruders out. It will have places of quiet, where a woman may think, read, or just sit. It will have places to gather that are open to moonlight. It will have a pharmacy for those who suffer under the monthly ebb and flow of hormones. It will have few chores, just cooking and tidying up for oneseif and for each other – not for ungrateful children, husbands and in-laws. What else it has will be limited only be the imaginations of the women who come there.
She was a former officer and newsletter staffer in San Francisco Regional Mensa. She was well-known for her columns about the behavior of Mensans. An escapee from Chicago, she has worked as a career programmer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.