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Why Menstruation Matters
Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - 18:45
This talk examines the biological and cultural impact of menstruation in human evolution. It looks into which species menstruate and why this evolved. What effects would highly visible menstruation have on hominin social systems? Why did menstruation become a critical biological signal and how did this affect the emergence of symbolic culture? The widespread distribution of menstrual taboos and observances indicates their great antiquity in human belief systems. Can we offer any predictions about the various forms these take in different societies?
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In the Batek’s forest, laughter and mockery are often subject to taboo, and inappropriate laughter or mockery can cause storms, madness, ill-health, or even death. However, although these taboos are viewed and described with utmost seriousness, people also find great pleasure in laughing together and making jokes. In fact, this pleasure is often intensified when the laughter or joke is forbidden and risks catastrophe. This sets up a dynamic whereby it is largely up to individuals whether they choose to follow the taboos, or to ignore them and succumb to the pleasure of sharing in subversive laughter. Speaking to debates on power and ethics, this paper therefore both outlines the Batek’s laughter taboos, and asks how managing the conflicting demands of laughter shapes people’s ethical values, particularly in relation to power, authority, and egalitarianism.