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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Honorable mention — Grad student essay contest: Miranda Percy

A woman’s shame

FFRF awarded Miranda $200.

Miranda Percy

By Miranda Percy

I remember years ago, when I was in middle school, I would wrap my menstrual pads in a white T-shirt in hopes of camouflaging it when I needed to be excused at school. The mere thought of anyone knowing that I was having my period was mortifying. Now that I am older, I have had time to put thought toward the feelings of shame and embarrassment that women feel surrounding the topic of menstruation. Where did this feeling originate? As in many other instances, the root cause of the discrimination and damnation of women can be traced back to the archaic teachings of the bible.

According to Leviticus 15:19-20, “When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything also on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean, and everything on which she sits shall be unclean.”

The impact this kind of teaching has on society can still be seen in today’s socioeconomic system. Women are constantly fighting for equal rights and simply want to be treated as equals. This verse has the exact opposite effect by promoting that we ostracize women for something that is natural. Women who are menstruating are still not allowed to pray in the mosque among other men, and women and are forced to pray from home.

An odd “tradition” or “old wives’ tale” that may also have originated from the Leviticus verse is the fact that many in the black community believe that it is not right to hold a newborn baby while menstruating. The fact that there is no scientific basis behind this makes me question if this notion centers on the thought that women are unclean when menstruating. Although this is far from the truth, the shame around menstruation can still be seen in today’s society. Perhaps if the bible were more focused on the miracle that is a woman’s body, rather than condemning her, religion could then be more of an ally to making women feel that they have nothing to be ashamed of.

The conflict between religion and science has long existed. As a scientist myself, I find it hard to understand much of the teachings of the bible, but this verse made me particularly disturbed because of its sheer ridiculousness. Without menstruation, humankind would not exist. Therefore, it is my belief that the bible should teach the celebration of women and take note of all of the miraculous things that her body can do. With verses such as Leviticus 15:19-20, it is no wonder why children and some women are ashamed of their bodies. The effect that this lack of self-esteem causes on our society is clear to see. Men are clearly valued more than women, even though the power of life resides within a woman’s womb.

Perhaps verses such as Leviticus 15:19-20 exist to keep women feeling inferior in this patriarchic society that we live in. By not taking the verses of the bible literally, and using my own moral compass as a guide, I now feel less shame about my body and I am proud to be a woman.

Miranda, 30, is from Arlington, Texas, and attends Texas Tech University Health Science Center, where she is majoring in clinical laboratory sciences. She is recently married and has a poodle and a cat. “I learned about the importance of laboratory work through a very personal experience,” she writes. “I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2014 and, without lab work, I surely would have succumbed to the disease.