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Reconsidering the Menstrual Taboo: A Portuguese Case

Denise L. Lawrence
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 55, No. 2 (Apr., 1982), pp. 84-98
DOI: 10.2307/3318155
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3318155
Page Count: 15
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Reconsidering the Menstrual Taboo: A Portuguese Case
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Abstract

Much of the recent literature on women attempts to correct an androcentric bias in ethnographic description and theoretical explanation. In treating menstrual-taboo customs, this paper addresses an ancient and revered topic in the anthropological literature. Traditionally, discussions of these practices have focused on men's reactions of fear to menstrual blood and menstruating women. Occasionally women's opinions and views have been described, but only rarely have they been considered in the explanation of behavior that ultimately concerns them. This research describes avoidance behavior exhibited by some Portuguese women during menstruation at the time of the annual pig-killing. It argues that women's behavior can be explained not by reference to assumptions of male dominance over women, but to women's conscious choice of modes of behavior reflecting strategic goals important to their own perceived self-interest. Women are the principal actors in maintaining the menstrual taboo because it allows them to control certain social interactions outside the household and affords them a rationale for protecting the economic privacy of their homes for which they hold primary responsibility. Ultimately, this research views women's behavior related to the menstrual taboo as embedded within the complexity of the social relations and values that surround them, rather than a simple function of pollution concepts.

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