In the late 19th and early 20th century, hysterectomies were advocated as a means of curing / controlling hysteria, diagnosed as a female complaint. How far have we come?
Today women are frequently defined as neurotic, psychotic and idiotic when they suffer with pre menstrual syndrome or menopausal symptoms. Common clinical explanations and strategies include hormone imbalance, HRT, anti-depressants, tranquillisers and still, finally, hysterectomy and ovarectomy.
The Western medical model seems to largely view the problem in terms of either physical, based on hormone imbalance, or ‘mental’ and in need of tranquilising! This approach takes little account of the confused and alienated female psyche on the physical female body. It also takes little stock of nutritional factors, herbs and traditional ways of dealing with menstruation such as food taboos, retreats and womens’ rituals which may in fact have a very sound basis.
Menstruation is an integral part of being a woman and as I see it, women are different but equal and complementary parts of a whole; male and female. We are balanced in nature and should exist harmoniously. In a patriarchal society, however, women are not acknowledged as such. Society seeks to devalue and suppress our femaleness and our strengths. It seeks to control aspects of the female which are seen as threatening; female sexuality including menstruation being one of them. (Men are just as subject to this misguided and outdated social conditioning as women and we should learn together to grow beyond it.)
Western society does not acknowledge menstruation except in very negative ways. It is defined as a curse, messy, dirty, inconvenient and possibly dangerous. Menstruation is not celebrated, it is hardly spoken of except in biological and clinical terms and we are in fact very ignorant about it in many ways.
We have no positive teaching, no rituals, no symbolic acknowledgement, no shared experience to build on. We are not taught that our cycles naturally would run with the moon and tides, connecting us deeply to nature; that the last phase in the cycle is one of introspection and retreat; that our energies change throughout the cycle and that we should respond accordingly, or that our physical needs in terms of nutrition, sleep and exercise vary also. Thus we may doubt our own identity, feeling mad and isolated or trying to adopt patriarchal attributes in order to be accepted as equals. And so we lose touch with ourselves as women.
Menstruation is also powerful, mysterious, in harmony with nature’s rhythms and cycles. It is the flow of creative life energy and when we lose touch with all of this we are out of touch with our own ‘eco-systems’, our own nature.
Just as modern society is alienating us from nature, so we are also being alienated from our own nature and similarly all kinds of problems occur. We find that actually we cannot exist for very long if we try to ignore and override nature. We badly need to get back in touch with ourselves and with the Earth.
It is not surprising that pre menstrual syndrome has become such a big problem for many women in this society. There are ways of dealing with this syndrome that work but they mainly address lifestyle, diet and nutrition, correcting systems and psyches deranged by modern life.
- Julia Smith.