The Red Death – Menstruation as a Symbol of Renewal

Karen Smith


How are we to view menstruation in our modern world? With advancements in science, women can, for the first time in history, choose to stop menstruating. While many women are making the decision to free themselves from the “curse”, many others are forming in groups all over the Western world, to honour and celebrate what they consider a potent symbol of female power. What is the future of menstruation and does it matter?

In the main, this essay is an enquiry into the recent trend towards menstrual suppression that is occurring over the Western world. It is three distinctive parts: Chapter one briefly charts some of the cultural, religious and medical attitudes towards menstruation past and present. Included in this section is a brief cross-cultural account of traditional and indigenous attitudes towards menstruation. In chapter two I assess the contemporary trend towards menstrual suppression and offer a critique of Western science in relation to women’s bodies and reproduction. In this section I also offer a positive analysis of scientific findings that could facilitate a menstrual positive perspective. Chapter three is an analysis of the reasons why many women reject menstruation; here I present arguments for and against a female ‘essentialist’ position – that is the belief that women, on account of their biology, have an inherent and unique connection with nature.


Karen Smith holds an MA in Myth, Cosmology and the Sacred from Canterbury Christ Church.