The Sexes: Culture and the Curse

Renaissance writers insisted it destroyed grass, tarnished mirrors and dissolved asphalt. The sight of it, Australian aborigines believe, can turn a man's hair gray. Until 1967, campers at Glacier National Park were warned that its odor can incite bears to attack.

It is menstrual blood, and it is the source and symbol of a universal taboo. In most cultures, menstruating women are shunned as dangerous or vaguely contaminated. Throughout history, they have been isolated in menstrual huts, forced through purification rituals and sometimes beaten if they ventured into male company during their periods. Exactly why is a mystery. Some think the...

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