Taboos are like rules, but they are ancient and unchangeablerules. Every society has its own taboos. For instance, most cultures donot allow brothers and sisters to marry: it is taboo. It is a rule, butit is more than a rule. Rules can be broken, or changed. Taboos are neverchanged, and breaking them is almost unthinkable. Menstrual blood and menstruatingwomen are taboo in some way in nearly all cultures, including ours. Itis what keeps us quiet about our periods.
Taboos are created to control things which are considered powerful ordangerous. The ability of women to bleed without being wounded, and tobleed in a predictable rhythm, like the cycles of the moon, combined withthe ability to give birth, has been considered a kind of power by peopleall over the world since we became human. And whether the women were feared,worshipped or envied because of their periods, taboos were developed toprotect society and the woman against this incredible menstrual power.
We no longer think of menstruation as a kind of power (although maybewe should), but we still hold on to some very old menstrual taboos. Forexample:
Menstrual blood is considered powerful but also polluting. Most culturesrequire that women be careful about where their menstrual blood goes. Wewrap our used pads in wads of toilet paper and bury them at the bottomof the wastebasket.
In some cultures women go to a special place during their period, wherethey are alone, or with other menstruating women. It is considered dangerousto have menstruating women around people who are not menstruating. Menare especially careful to stay away from menstruating women.
In our culture we do not go into isolation (although in some communities the notion of the "menstrual hut" has been revived), but we are careful not tolet anybody know we are menstruating, especially men. It is even embarrassingfor some women to buy pads or tampons at the grocery store. Nearly everyonehas trouble doing this, at least for a while, but nobody can explain exactlywhat is embarrassing about it. Maybe it is because slapping that box onthe counter is a way of saying "I menstruate! I could be menstruatingright now!" in front of a bunch of strangers, which breaks the unspokenrule that you should keep it secret. I
We may think our society does not follow taboos, that taboos are primitiveand superstitious, but we do follow menstrual taboos. It important to understandthat these taboos exist, because if you do not see them as a part of thebig picture, you might want to take the shame and embarrassment about yourperiod inside of you, like it was your fault, like you are doing somethingwrong by menstruating. These taboos are older than your grandmother's grandmother,and are built into everyone's brains. They will not be easily changed,but you can change by understanding that they exist. In societies wherethey are open about menstrual taboos (instead of pretending they don'thave any) women are not ashamed of their periods, they just know that theyhave special things to do when their periods come.