Gender and SuperstitionsThis is a featured page

As I was reading up on this topic with reference to the book Old Wives' Tales by Nicolette Yeo, I realised that most of the gender-related superstitions are directed at/for women and rarely the men. Of which, I shall start with the menstruating taboo which, in brief, means that anything associated with a menstruating female is deemed "unclean". Personally, I find this chauvinistic superstitionrather amusing, bearing in mind that menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining important for the development of the MALE or female fetus.

Gender and Superstitions - Gender Studies
Menstruating taboo
- In many traditional cultures, the menstruating taboo is used as a tool in oppression of women --> derived from a male-centered view of culture
- menstrual blood and menstruating women are viewed as dangerous and offensive to men (strongly associated topatriarchal cultures)
- some of these rules may have been created to protect men and/or society from the 'feminine evil,' others seek to protect the creative spirituality of menstruating women from others in more neutral states.
Origin of superstition that "walking under a ladder brings bad luck" stems from the menstruation taboo
In medieval times, there was a belief that if someone was to walk beneath a menstruating woman (i.e. under a bridge, under a window, etc.), some of her blood ormana(negative energy) could fall on the person below, thus causing bad luck to befall the person.

In Vila Branca (Southern Portugal)
- "polluting" effect of menstruation has malevolent effect of spoilage on pork.
-during the winter, most households conduct an annualmatança, a pig killing.This ritual is viewed informally as having a determinate social status within the community.
- Menstruating women are forbidden from preparing the sausages or entering a room where thematançais being performed because of a belief that a menstruating woman can cause the pork to spoil through a "fixed gaze" or stare.
Other common superstitions regarding the menstruation taboo
1. Fruits or vegetables canned by a menstruating women will spoil in the can
2. Breadmaking will fail because the dough will not rise
3. A menstruating female should not go near a winery as the wine will turn sour
4. A menstruating female should be barred from joining any hunting activities as prey animals will scent the blood and this sends them scurrying
5. Buying sanitary pads for women brings bad luck for the men. In the early days, menstruating women were banned from fishing trips and harvesting crops because their unclean state was thought to affect the fish hauls or harvest. The same reasoning applies today. The only difference is that the man will encounter bad luck in business and in life. He will be especially unlucky if he gambles.
Malay folklore: Pontianak finds a pregnant women easily (directed towards women, the EVIL of women)

Pontianak is the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth. Having been denied motherhood while alive, the pontianak sets out to ensure that other pregnant women never get the chance to enjoy motherhood too.Pontianaksare believed to be able to smell a fetus from afar and can sense when a women is pregnant. Once a pontianak realises where an expectant mother stays, it will come for the fetus at night. This is why the Malays encourage pregnant women to remain at home at night. It makes its presence known by scratching on the front door. If you ignore it, it will go away but return night after night to try to get in.
If a pregnant women dies, she is believed to return as a pontianak. Pontianaksare known to fly, so raw eggs are placed under the dead women's armpits. The eggs symbolise children and are placed there to prevent thepontianakfrom spreading its arms to fly. It is thus restricted to walking, thereby losing some of its supernatural powers. Its inability to fly renders it less dangerous.
Malay folklore: Pregnant women are most vulnerable to spirits in the last 40 days of their pregnancy

These spirits linger in the hopes of tasting the blood that is shed during childbirth. In the past, families would engage the services of atok-pawangor village medicine man to drive away these spirits,
Malay belief: It is taboo to have sexual relations during pregnancy

The wife is believed to be "dirty" (Then why should men bother getting their wives pregnant anyway???)
It is only after the confinement period of 40 days and when she has undergone themandi hadaas besaror the cleansing process, that the sexual relations is resumed.

(i) Taboos during weddings
(a) The bride should not step on the groom's feet (reflects negativity of women's actions)

At any time on their wedding day, if the bride steps on the groom's feet, he will end up being a henpecked husband. Similarly, if a daughter-in-law steps on the feet or her mother-in-law or vice versa, the one whose foot is stepped upon will ultimately be 'controlled' by the other
(b) If a boy rolls on the marital bed, the couple will be blessed with children (why not a girl??? portrays males in positive light)

A young male child is picked to jump and roll on the bed to bless the bed with fertility. Once this is done, no one should touch the bed except for the wedding couple on their wedding night.
(c) Bride's teeth should be filed to get rid of evil spirits (directed towards women)
The teeth and hair are said to be favourite haunts of evil spirits. The mak andam who is also believed to have the power to eradicate evil spirits, will file the bride's teeth three days before the wedding day. She will also trim the bride's hair and clear any facial hair. These rituals are believed to remove all dirt and ill-luck from the bride's body

(ii) ceremonial taboos
As menstrual blood is classified under the same category as 'urine, faeces, pus, phlegm etc', hence it is considered 'dirty' according to the chinese as these are all excretions from the body. "Anything that comes out of the body is dirty" as quoted from a chinese woman. (Wolf, Witke, Martin, 1975)

Therefore, in certain chinese ceremonies where spirit mediums (called tang-ki) are involved, these menstruating women have to stay away, primarily because of;
1) their 'weak' spirit during the menstruation period, hence if the spirit possessing the medium is too strong, the woman is more likely to faint.
2) blood is seen as 'power'. So, if there is blood flowing out of the woman's body and she happens to stand near the tang-ki, it symbolises that the tang-ki is losing power too. Thus, the destructive force of the blood might pose a threat to the tang-ki and the woman.


The notion of woman's menstruation poses as a stigma to her. Not only does it cause quite a bit of inconvenience to her (as she has to constantly clean up and maintain hygiene) but it becomes a source of enslavement to society's reasons, where she is succumbed to discrimination and possible blame of misgivings with her presence at important events.
As Ortner(1972) mentions, "menstruation is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes many cases, interrupts her routine, putting her in a stigmatized state involving various restrictions on her activities and social contacts". Indeed, women are enslaved to culture's degradation of status simply because of their biological nature in which there is not much control over. Women's animality becomes emphasized instead, resulting in the 'exclusion' of their presence in certain events as they are deemed 'dirty'.

(i) weddings
(a) Presence of two married women keeps aways the evil eye (reflects power of married women during weddings)

During the Bridegroom welcome, two married women performaalaathi,where they hold a tray with lighted candles and wave them in a clockwise direction. This is believed to ward off the evil eye and forestall any mishaps in the proceedings that follow.
(b) The presence of a widow on the ceremonial stage bodes bad luck for the bride

Suggests that the bride might end up a widow as well
(c) Menstruating ladies pollute the wedding atmosphere (directed towards women)

As mentioned earlier, menstruating women are seen as "unclean" and hence are discouraged from attending celebrations


(a) Pregnant women are unclean and should not walk pass the family alter (oppression of women)

This is a popular Peranakan belief. It is therefore taboo for the expectant woman to leave her room as she may not be able to avoid the family alter (9 months of staying within enclosed 4 walls can drive anyone crazy!). Her presence near the family alter is seen as disrespectful to the gods, ancestors and family members,
(b) Pregnant women should not attend funerals (directed towards women)

Apparently the fetus might be possessed by malignant spirits and be harmed by them.
Western belief: A wedding band that swings in a circular motion means that the baby is a girl

This is done by suspending a strand of filmsy thread over the expectant mother's palm.
Circular/Oval motion --> Girl
Moves in straight line --> Boy
Chinese belief: If a man develops a stye in his eye, it means he has been ogling at women

Frederick, J. (Date unknown).The First Taboo: How Menstrual Taboos Reflect and Sustain Women's Internalized Oppression.Internet resource from 8 April 2009).
Mikkelson, D. P. (2005).Monthly Taboos.Internet resource from 8 April 2009).

Wolf, M., Witke, R., Martin, E., 1975. Women in Chinese society. Stanford University Press.
Yeo, N. (2004).Old Wives' Tales.Times Editions. Singapore. pp. 111.

No user avatar
Latest page update: made by dotzz , Apr 9 2009, 7:58 AM EDT (about this update About This Update dotzz Edited by dotzz

1 image added

view changes

- complete history)
Keyword tags: None
More Info: links to this page
Started By Thread Subject Replies Last Post
Bluecola Menstrating Taboo 1 Apr 8 2009, 6:51 AM EDT by ngxq
Thread started: Apr 8 2009, 2:54 AM EDT  Watch
In the Indian customs too, a menstrating women is treated differently. She is not allowed to pray and traditionally, menstrating women were expected to stay in their rooms without having any contact with males and expected to not enter the kitchen or water the plants. It is believed that watering the plants when you are 'dirty' will make the plants wilt. I have tried this but the plants grew well instead (this belief exists till this day). Also, she was not to 'contaminate' things and was expected to have her own cup and plate.

Also, when a girl first attains puberty, she is not allowed to go out of the house for 1 mth (in the Indian traditions). In older days, a room was prepared for her and she had to stay there whenever she got her period and had to stay away from men. Menstral blood is also seen as bad. Seeing someone's menstral blood is believed to bring bad luck especially for males.
2  out of 3 found this valuable. Do you?    
Keyword tags: None
Show Last Reply
victor.sim Menstrating Taboo - Perpetuation by Women 0 Apr 7 2009, 11:44 PM EDT by victor.sim
Thread started: Apr 7 2009, 11:44 PM EDT  Watch
I personally have never heard of most of these taboos, although I can indeed say that the impression of menstration as unclean is commonplace in my family.
I have had the opportunity to see this first hand, as my sister got into frequent fights with my mother over washing her undergarments in the washing machine when I was a lot younger. My mother's usual explanation was that it was dirty and it would 'stain' the rest of our clothes.. My father had no opinions on this belief by the way.
When I asked my mother where or how she got this belief, she said her own mother would beat her if she washed her own undergarments with the rest of the household's. Until today my grandmother washes her own undergarments separately. She refuses to use the washing machine for these particular clothes, and cleans them by hand regularly.

While it is easy to label these taboos targeted at women as chauvinistic, I think we should also note that women themselves perpetuate these beliefs. How they were led into this belief might be due to what the men in their household said, but I personally have never heard my father weigh in with his criticism or comment.
Do you find this valuable?    
Keyword tags: None
Showing 2 of 2 threads for this page