I wrote the first version of this a year ago before I was keeping this blog. Not much has changed, but I wanted to share it with a new audience.
I can’t remember who said it or where I heard it first, but it was probably coming from the mouth of some macho guy who had been bested by female cunning:
“Never trust anything that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.”
And then he probably loaded his gun or peered around the corner to take a shot at somebody. I’ve looked it up and found that variations of the saying have appeared all over—even in South Park, and it has infuriated people because it proliferates misogyny.
I’ve always thought of the menstrual cycle as a sense of female strength because it means we can have this outwardly seeming injury and still survive, which is maybe what scares so many men: we can do something that they can’t. When I’ve discussed menstrual cycles with men, when they are comfortable enough, they ask, “But does it hurt?” And these are men who like slashers and some who have even gone to war and seen plenty of bloodshed that definitely hurt. Yet, they are still disgusted and at best, a bit mystified. Yet it’s a wonder that people can find female bleeding so shocking when it’s one of the most normal and necessary processes on the planet.
Perhaps it is that it is more common for female genitalia to be considered useful for providing sexual gratification, and rarely a passageway to the womb, where all life begins.
Shaming starts early. When a young girl begins her menses, if the she receives any instruction (whether from a close friend or some form of media), she’s taught how to hide everything very cleverly. Advertisements for feminine hygiene products emphasize the period as an impediment to “normal” life and claim that their products can minimize the most undesirable effects of this bodily function. Birth control available today can even eliminate it altogether just so women can forget about it and dance in nightclubs with tight outfits and shake it all through the night without thinking, “Man I should have put in a Super tampon instead of a Regular.” They can climb mountains without bathrooms and hook up with strangers who would have otherwise been overlooked.
Some people may think it’s time that society gets over it and is open to starting dinner conversations about this kind of thing, and I wouldn’t say I’m quite there; however, it’s not because I think it’s only women’s business or that there isn’t something to be learned from the human body. I usually hold my tongue because I don’t think people want to go there because they view it as a feminist indulgence to discuss what is completely normal and yet unacceptable because it forces them to think about blood in a way they don’t want to think about it. Watching it in video games or movies spouting from someone’s slit jugular is okay, but thinking of it coming from between a woman’s legs is completely unbearable.
During a lunch-hour interview that aired on NPR in March 2013, a guest addressed how women’s value in some cultures is dictated by whether or not their bodies can get pregnant. The guest shared that in some societies, those who have already passed menopause are considered better workers because their children are old enough to take care of themselves and the older women were more likely to serve as the communities’ sages.
That seems like it would be a positive thing, but it still gets down to placing value on people based on things that have little to do with anything they can help, which seems somewhat unfair to me.
Regardless of advancements in the current conversation or available instrumentation, menstrual periods have had an alienating effect on women for thousands of years. In Genesis 31, Rachel got out of handing over her household gods to her dad because she refused to stand up and reveal them. She used her period as an excuse for not moving and reminded him that she was unclean. (Similar practices still exist today in several cultures).
Whether or not the culture in which a women lives endorses the menstrual taboo, it can be agonizing for a woman when there’s a problem with the cycle, particularly when she can’t stop bleeding. Even if it’s a slow but constant blood loss, she will never feel clean, and it’s not because she wants to play volleyball in a white bikini alongside oiled up frat boys. She will not feel able to be close to anyone, and she may not be able to conceive children if she wants to. Even if she is alone, without anyone to sleep with, at some point, it becomes more than annoyance because her body’s ability to sustain the life-giving power it was meant to have is totally disrupted.
As discomforting as this subject may be, the ancients didn’t seem too afraid about writing a story about a woman with a bleeding problem three separate times. She was not named, but everyone seemed to know her. She was the woman who had been “subject to bleeding for 12 years” and no one could cure her. Mark 5:26 even uses the word “suffer” to describe how she underwent so much pain at the hands of doctors who attempted to fix her. Driven to desperation, she dared to reach out in a crowd that was pressing against another famed miracle worker, and in a moment, she was healed.
Those who know the story know that it was Jesus who felt this woman, among all those who were almost crushing him. Luke 8:46 records Christ as saying that He knew because “power has gone out” of Him. While everyone else wanted to be close, this woman wanted something more. She wanted to be healed—for the pain to stop, whether it was pain of ridicule or loneliness, or even just ending the mess. Nothing that anyone else did was bringing her that.
She could have been healed and turned and gone home, and maybe she wished she could have done that; but before she could, she was called out by Jesus. He picked her out, and instead of adding to her shame, he gave her the name “Daughter” (Matthew 9:22). A woman who society deemed unclean, not for what she had done (like the prostitutes Jesus loved to bless) but for what she couldn’t fix on her own, was given value and a place.
In the Jewish culture of the time, a menstruating woman touching a rabbi was certainly risky. Immediately, Jesus would have been considered ceremonially unclean and would have had to undergo all kinds of rituals to rid himself of her transferred filth; but because of who He Is, it had no bearing upon Him other than feeling that someone had believed that He was who He said He was. The instantaneous stop of her blood flow brought her the ability to be close to others in her surroundings. It was a gift of intimacy that he gave to her by healing, and instead of being cast away from the group for doing such a selfish thing and taking from Him like that, she was elevated, called “Daughter.”
When I was a kid, I remember learning a hymn called “Nothing But the Blood,” and I found it really jarring and somewhat exciting because we were singing about blood. It was a bit creepy to me, but I find that Christ was never a stranger to it, be it ours or His. He was born of a woman, with a cord of lifeblood flowing from His mother to Him, He let a bleeding woman touch him, and at last, He bled His out till nothing was left but water just so we wouldn’t have to be ashamed of things we’re not even sure we can help from hurting. He Is willing to take on what is unclean to end the suffering of being disappointed by all those other types of healing agents we seek to solve our problems.
Of all the pre-crucifixion encounters Jesus had, I find this one, the one that deals with the absolute distress of a disordered nature, the most fascinating illustration of His purpose of restoring it.