Friday, October 3, 2014

Medieval Cleanliness and How it Relates to Present Day Women.

We've read in our class about women and their dirtiness. In stories such as 'The Prioresses Tale", we see allusions of the Virgin Mary going into filth in order to save people, which leads to equating her, and all women, to being unclean. Or the equation of a slit throat being akin to a vagina, which is dirty in that it's bloody and defiled. This also plays a part in "The Child Slain By Jews", where the Virgin Mary sticks a lily, which is a sign of purity, into a slain boy's throat wound, thusly purifying the wound and in a round-about way the vagina. We've had discussions in class relating to women's bodies, and how the womb was seen as waste, and that to come from a womb, or worse, to have one, meant have a coat of grime on ones' self that can never be washed off. Unless you are the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes seen as above these notions of grime, no woman can seem to come above these stereotypes. Even Mary herself doesn't sometimes, as seen with the name play of Maria being Har'ia (shit). As such, there is an insecurity that women are lesser, and not clean, due to their bodies, a notion that has not faded in modern times.

I want to equate this to modern day media messages regarding menstruation.

In this ad, we see an emphasis of purity, and cleanliness, as well as femininity. It's seen as the complete opposite of medieval literature and attitudes where women are seen as dirty and not fit to be touched either during or because of menstruation. However, much like one could view medieval attitudes as an unease of women having any sort of control, I would view these commercials as a sort of discontent with women's bodies, and overcompensation. Because periods are still viewed as dirty, advertisers feel the need to market their products as super feminine and clean. This doesn't erase medieval thinking, but instead draws on it, because women are still seen as unclean. If we weren't, we wouldn't have to be sold to these products based on how clean they make us feel.


Also, by selling products such as these Always Feminine Wipes, which imply that periods are shameful and disgusting, and that we must be clean at all times. It's not good enough unless we go the extra mile and by unnecessary products. Marketing feeds on the societal insecurity that is women's bodies, and uses the shame associated with a fear of uncleanliness in order to make money. The need to control women, and to make them feel lesser, is stuck in society, and is a completely medieval concept.

While men may also experience this shame with their bodies and uncleanliness, as seen by the current trend of circumcising baby boys due to supposed attitudes towards cleanliness, it's not the same at all. First off, the act of circumcision in non-Jewish or Muslim men is not a medieval action, and is more of the opposite. It also doesn't control the way men are treated in society, and men are not usually shunned due to their penis. The hysteria is still somewhat there, but it is opposite and lesser, whereas women, even today, still cannot seem to get clean.


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    1. There is a notion amongst society that menstrual cycles need to be secretive. I feel like this learned notion ties into the forced need of cleanliness of female's bodies. Thinking back to my first education of puberty in elementary school, it was a very secret act. The girls watched the video for females and the boys watched the video for males, there was a lack of education on both sides. I can't speak on the behalf of the male sides of things, but as a female I feel as if I was directly taught that yes, your menstrual cycle was a very a natural and normal thing, but it is a process that is exceptionally private that needs to be kept concealed. It's like this secrecy was created because it is supposedly this "gross, unclean, dirty" process that woman have been shamed for since the Middle Ages. As long as this idea that menstruation should be a process of complete secrecy exists, I feel like the idea of menstruation will remain as a process of un-cleanliness causing shame to women’s bodies.

  2. I found this post to be really intriguing. It is pretty ironic how tampon and pad commercials try to make menstruation this wonderful time, and by using the consumer products you will feel amazing and pretty. The first YouTube video in your blog is one of my favorite commercials. Every time I see a period commercial, I immediately think to myself “how freaking unreal is this?!” No one prances around in white spandex/skirts and feels like dancing while on their period. It intrigues me that these commercials attempt to advertise these products as a way to tell women “If you want to feel beautiful and not be disgusting, use our products!” I also really liked how you tied men into this blog, and how societal views are completely skewed towards women.