chapter  1
Menstruation: historical perspective
ByJames Drife
Pages 10

The history of menstruation is a story of change. Over the centuries, society’s attitude to women has altered, and so have women’s attitudes to doctors and to their own bodies. This process seems to be accelerating. Only a few years ago, reviews of the history of menstruation made relaxing reading, with little relevance to current practice. 1 They covered predictable ground – primitive superstition, medical ignorance, and societal taboos – and made modern doctors feel superior to their predecessors. In recent years, however, universities have established departments of feminist studies, and a new wave of academics, mainly but not exclusively women, has begun in-depth examination of historical attitudes to menstruation. Their work includes critical examination of doctors’ assumptions, and some of their conclusions make disturbing reading for gynecologists. Our belief that we are motivated mainly by sympathy for women and women’s troubles is now being subjected to hostile scrutiny.