This week’s readings and discussions focused on a better understanding of the correspondences between honor and blood, and how these two signs, materials, and events interact with the constitution of latina bodies and with religion. We expanded the discussion we began the past two weeks regarding the meaningful network of bodies, flesh, ethnicity, and religion, and we dwelled in the importance of blood in and for women’s bodies, for Latina bodies, for Latina embodiment, for submission, liberation, racism, and grace.
On Monday we explored psychologies and politics of blood in a foundational context of latinidad, guided by Anidjar’s reading on blood and Christianity and especially in the blind spot of his essay, that of a ‘vampire state’ in which there is little room for women. On Wednesday we continued the discussion of Anidjar’s query, and we digged deeper in the relationship of flesh, blood, theology, birth control, and the interpretation of religion by and with the dispossessed: Guadalupe, Yemayá, Cachita, Pachamama, and María Lionza, among others.
Choose any of these lines of thinking about Latinas and religion to compose your comment for this week. Alternatively, if you wish to do so, you can comment on the bloody messes of JLo/Pitbull (music video) and Ana Mendieta (performance art) as two registers of honor and blood articulated by two very different artistic Latinas, and comment how any of the previous threads of thinking and discussion are represented by these artists.
Please, post your comment by Sunday at 5pm. Not Saturday, but Sunday at 5pm. Thank you.
This week has been my favorite discussion. I have never considered blood in such a powerful and deep context in religion and culture. I found it powerful how in class we talked about how in the Bible it never talks about if Mary bled. Not even in menstruation but it never addresses Mary’s pain or physical suffering. However, the men of the bible and Jesus were constantly highlighted for the battle scars and the blood they shed. That comparison what blood is of a woman vs a man is mindblowing to me. Blood on a woman is a stain it’s something women hide, whereas blood on a man is a symbol of strength and should be displayed. This also brought to mind in Latina households girls are taught to shrink and hide their periods as if it is something to be ashamed of. This contrast really stuck out to me and it made me reflect upon my own life. It made me grateful for my mom who I have realized has worked so hard to break generational curses so that I do not feel ashamed of any part of myself regardless of what is culturally normal.
I wanted to bring up the femicide video that was assigned for Wednesday because it showed the actual bloody mess for Latinas in an extremely obvious environment that doesn’t respect them. We spoke how the pain and suffering of females is often ignored and Latinas are meant to not bring it up. This is heavily reflected in the video, the fact that in Honduras one female dies every 16 hours and it didn’t grab the international community’s attention until a pageant queen was murdered. Further, due to the drug violence in the community, women aren’t protected by the police or by the community and are encouraged to stay silent and deal with the bloody mess left behind by the machismo. Religion is brought into this dilemma, very apparently to me, by the reporter. She started the news report by saying that this violence was happening “even under the watchful eye of the Virgin Mary” as if this holy figure was made holy because of her strength against the violence. The Virgin Mary was not praised for her independence and strength but rather as the “perfect woman”. Further, the reporter characterized the violence as “unholy”, having me think of violence done under the authority of the church and how it was characterized as holy. This violence against “other” communities, children and women was okay and unreported on when it was conducted by the hands of the church and only brought to light when those who questioned were lucky enough to live. The intersection these women live on truly is in response to the ideas brought by the teachings of men in power who characterized what a woman should be rather than allowing women to characterize themselves individually. This type of blood shouldn’t bring anyone honor but in communities of machismo and ‘traditional’ ideals, the definition of honor is warped.
I was extremely struck with the beauty, significance, and relevance of Ana Mendieta’s performance art piece, particularly as it intersects with religion, Latinas and latinidad, and the history of animal and human sacrifice in Central and South American cultures (particularly as it pertains to the roles of women in Aztec, Mixtec, and Mayan blood rituals). Mendieta beautifully engages the history of Central and Latin America in dialogue with signification and symbolism in performance art. Mendieta, in taking the chicken, wringing its neck, and cutting its throat to let the blood pour from the wound before using it to create a blood painting, expresses several messages without needing words: she is aware of the message that blood, not paint, signifies; she knows of the history of Central and Latin America and its traditions of animal sacrifice; and, she knows that being a woman using chicken’s blood to paint offers insight into her own views of herself, her culture, her history, and socio-political commentary on religion. In effect, Mendieta is screaming and yelling her thoughts through her actions, letting her fury and rage channel into something beautiful and pathologically moving. Juxtapose her killing of an animal with that of a man’s slaughtering of animals (ex. hunting, killing, raping, abusing, farming, etc.), one finds interesting commentary also relating to gender roles and the involvement of gender in the killing and defiling/devaluing of a body and living thing. Mendieta appropriates a common practice from indigenous Mesoamerican traditions and uses it as a tool for vocalization. In so doing, Mendieta takes back for her and other Latinas the right to agency and the importance of women to latinidad. Though she exemplifies this well, Mendieta calls back to times when Aztec, Mayan, and Mixtec women, especially those of the upper classes, would participate in these sacrificial rituals (oftentimes being human sacrifices though later becoming animal-based). Without the role of priestesses, empresses, spiritual women, and warrior queens, ancient Mesoamerican rituals would not have been carried out fully. Mesoamerican societies called for the active involvement of women, and though these roles were determined by class and one’s cultural origin, women had value in these areas. Thus, Mendieta reclaims what was once a spiritual practice and retranslates it, refilling this action with a new signification to provide a voice for those women who, rather than be given a space with blood, have been alienated by and subordinated to it.
One of the most striking things to me during this week’s discussion is the difference in what blood represents between men and women. I’ve always known that women are treated as lesser in society, some of the reasons having to do with the Bible and religion, but the way that translates into bloodshed was really interesting. We talked about when a man sheds blood, specifically Jesus Christ, it is seen as a sacrifice and an honor. However, when a woman sheds blood she’s seen as weak, especially when it comes to period blood. It is so stigmatized in society that people, including women, never want to talk about it. It is a natural process of the body, which is just an indication that a woman is not pregnant, yet people make it seem like a terrible thing. It’s like men only respect women for their bodies only when it can produce them a child.
I really loved our discussions this week. The framework of the vampiric state helped me think of blood as a way to set boundaries and who sets those boundaries. Blood, something we can’t–hopefully–see, is a really abstract way to tie a community together and yet it’s a very powerful tool for claiming sameness and dictating community guidelines around said sameness.
Men have been able to dominate the conversation around Catholic blood and community, meaning that they create blood in a political sense. Women, on the other hand, are blood that creates blood in a community sense. They can’t expand the definition of blood, but they are members of it and are necessary for the group to continue. As such, men are owners of blood and women are means for blood.
To control women’s blood flow, their blood has been tied to a notion of dirtiness that needs to be cleaned. Women’s value is tied to her ability to denounce sinfulness, to be the caretaker of the family and represent religious purity, because when women’s blood isn’t controlled, the community changes. It’s interesting then that such a vital part of a community is so easily rendered “puta”. When women menstrate, though it is proof they haven’t conceived a child out of wedlock, they are dirty because their blood isn’t adding value to the community. However, god forbid a woman didn’t get her period or had a child out of wedlock, she would be even worse. The shame and constant policing on Latina’s femininity and sexuality makes it so they see their bodies as something they have to live up to or get away from–that said, maybe that’s just me. What I do know is, I didn’t realize until this class that despite spending so much time with mothers, tias, primas and abuelas, I have no words to explain menstruation in Spanish.
I feel a constant struggle not to essentialize others or the self into aspects of the flesh. I hadn’t previously recognized the omnipresence of blood in that dialogue, but one can always feel it ebbing and flowing through borders of body and thought. It’s the one drop, the x and y chromosomes, the genetic predisposition. It’s abstracted through ideas like “ancestral intuition” or “natural rhythm,” always there but elevated past its physical dimensions and its restraints in time and space. I used to find some comfort in seeing things that way. It made me feel connected to groups and concepts greater than myself. Now I feel trapped under the unbearable weight of meaning imposed on the body. “My” flesh (and therefore “my” self) feels disconnected and disembodied; it’s as if the blood (and not specifically my own) is the only thing keeping it all together.
I don’t take the eucharist anymore. I no longer believe that anything I ingest or take within my flesh will elevate my being past its carnality. I don’t want that anymore either. But this class has forced me to reckon with the fact that I and many around me still ask our blood to be something it simply is not; to do what it is incapable of and to hold what it cannot contain. Worse still, doing so occludes the cultures and material conditions that truly are capable, truly are responsible for who and how we are.
Throughout this unit, I found our discussions about blood and its flow to be particularly striking in the context of Latinas and religion. I have always understood that the flow of blood in menstruation to be significant, since it marks womanhood and the ability of young women to reproduce. Our class analysis, however, opened my eyes to the distinct roles that blood plays for men and women. The flow of blood produces a stain and often evokes physical torture for women and girls. Many girls are told that it is taboo to talk about this topic while they are growing up. They are told that they must endure this pain as they attend school and/or work since this pain is simply a part of life. In our class discussion, I was intrigued about how blood and its bright, red color are such a stark contrast to the color white, that represents purity. On the other hand, blood has been considered a sign of honor for men because it usually signifies honor from a fight or a battle. Men do not need to hide or be embarrassed about their shedding of blood since it is not typically considered a sign of embarrassment. It is interesting how a woman’s blood shedding is crucial for reproduction, which is a very important part of life. However, there are many negative social and religious connotations towards their blood shedding.
This weeks discussion was quite interesting, and I felt that members of the class raised great questions. Isabelle’s first question particularly stood out: Is it the body that gives value to the blood or is it the blood that gives value to the body? This question resonated with me because the significance of a term such as “legacy” would imply that blood gives value to the body. This value however is not attainable by everyone and this is where it becomes possible for Latinas to fall through the cracks of such a distinction. Another point that was discussed was the caste system as an example of an honor system. The crossroads of blood and politics is significant here because it demonstrates exactly how blood impacts different people as you move down the social ladder. I feel that these points have a strong connection to our discussion from Wednesday’s class where we discussed how religion may disgrace women, but women turn it around and find grace through religion. The strength it must take for women to make this belief system work for them and liberate themselves from subordination. With the intersections of being a woman and Latin person there is a lot to overcome as it relates to religion and Catholicism specifically.
I found it interesting that convents are only for women and only women are in charge to help “fix” the young girls or make them “good” women. Men do not deal with the flawed, stained girls. Which connects back to the conversation about women not being able to discuss their menstruation because it is inappropriate. Blood is personal and such information about a woman should not be shared. It makes the woman’s blood less honorable, meanwhile a man’s bleeding is discussed more, and we honor soldiers. Regarding Latinas, Latinas live in an even more patriarchal society under the power of Catholicism. Yet, no one honors them except other Latinas. My question is why do women feel ashamed about periods and bleeding? Do we initially feel embarrassed or does society tell us we should? Without the female body, society would not be able to continue. Female blood is what provides life, but it is the least honored blood. Anidjar says blood “constitutes each as a clotted version of its currents”. When reading that, I gather that we all are connected through blood. We die, go into the ground, food is grown from the ground, babies are born, and the cycle continues. Blood flows within us, yet there is something about the Latina that makes her blood not honorable. Speaking as a feminist, I would suggest that men have been afraid of what women can do if they unite and are able to use resources that men have ample access to. Women are deemed as weak and fragile, yet we under the movement of blood and cleansing monthly and still must function in lo cotidiano as if nothing is happening. There is this statement going around social media that says if men could get pregnant, the world would be contraceptives and abortions would be a lot more feasible. Society runs based on the man’s needs.
It also stood out to me when in one of the readings asked what exactly it means to be Hispanic. There is so much discussion about the labels of those who come from Latin America- Latino/a, Hispanic, Latinx, etc. They say the Latina experience is far from homogenous, which can be proved with the various cultures in each country and the divide between Afro-Latinas and other Latinas. Again, they originate from the same side of the earth, but the lighter skinned ones are viewed as more honorable and respectable. So, not only is it with men but it is also with those who have light skin and are essentially more privileged. They all have the blood of a Latina, though. Who decided that the Latina, of all people, would have to live through so many restrictions from religious men and have generations of trauma within them?
This week’s discussion was my favorite one so far. It was nice to hear everyone’s personal stories and thoughts about blood and what it means to them. While I was doing the reading the first thing, I thought about is how blood is a unifying symbol in our lives. Our relation to others is due to the blood that is shared. It is a sense of pride between families and from the beginning of time all we have ever wanted is to pass our blood on to the next generation. Which is why I get so perplexed when the disgust towards menstruation is so adamant in our lives. It is a huge issue if we don’t have a period. We can’t have kids, but if we show a sign of having a period, we are repulsive. It reminds me of when we talk about pain, women don’t feel pain in the bible. Black women don’t feel as much pain as other women when they go to the hospital. Women are supposed to embrace the pain of childbirth. Pain is pushed to the side when it comes to women because it’s as if it is something we were born to endure. The pain that comes from the blood we shed is the same way. We are supposed to hide it and pretend that everything is okay for the comfort of the men around us. We are supposed to go work while we are bleeding because our labor is more important than our own well-being. In Latinx households that is the part that is thought when you first get your period. Instead of easing the confusion and crazy thoughts running in your mind, your mom teaches you how to properly dispose of your feminine products. “Make sure it seems like you’re not even on it.” Even our nature is being controlled by norms, how are we supposed to be okay with that and does a revolution against new thin absorbent technology set us back?
I really enjoyed this week’s discussion and hearing everyone share their thoughts. I was able to view blood in a manner I never would have before and understand the how it relates to women and religion, but also how the relationship differs for men and women. Women’s blood is seen as less significant and less valuable than that of a mans. It is the male body that incarnates divinity and the blood and body of Christ that are major symbols in the Church. You can see this divide in the examples of femicide in Honduras, which are enraging that women are dying everyday and being tormented simply because they are women and seen as less than. Furthermore, in our discussion we mentioned the symbolism of blood. White is the color of purity, which is free of blood. However, menstruation is what defines a woman and leaves stains on her. Women are forced to learn to contain the blood and live with the torture of having a cycle suffering both the physical effects and emotional pressure from negative connotations surrounding period blood. One of my favorite comments from this week by Tatiana was that “woman are the blood that create blood and if you menstruate you have failed to create the blood that creates life.” I thought this statement was extremely powerful and thought provoking.
I found Isabella’s question during our class discussion, namely, “Does blood inherently have value and thus, give value to one’s body, or does it gain its value as a result of being a part of one’s body?” to be extremely thought-provoking, and find myself often contemplating it. I find myself furious at the fact that blood is valuable for procreation, and yet, menstruation, a natural and painful biological process that most women have to endure every month, is treated as a taboo, dirty, and disgusting occurrence, not only in Christianity, but also in other religions such as Hinduism. Coming from an Indian Jain background, I have witnessed how Indian women in some conservative and rural parts of the country are prevented from entering their own homes, kitchens, and bathrooms, as well as temples, when they are on their period, because they are considered to be dirty. It almost seems as though a woman’s blood is meant to create additional blood, and it flowing outside of her body during menstruation is a waste, because it fails to contribute to the growth of a community or society. Anidjar’s statement, “What is indubitable is that the failure to imagine blood in its relation to an outside is related—by lack of relation—to a kind of interruption of the flow, an immobility that further determines the relation between part and whole” (81) highlights the fact that blood flowing outside the body, and being distanced from the flesh, is an anathema, because it disrupts the natural flow and order that a patriarchal society expects to maintain. I feel adamant at the fact that I have to ask this rhetorical question, but why is the shedding of a woman’s blood due to biological reasons considered unholy, but the shedding of a man’s blood in sacrifice, or during a war, considered valiant and brave? The honest, yet problematic answer is that society still considers a man’s blood to be of higher value than that of a woman.
Furthermore, I find the relationship between blood, and the stain that blood leaves, not only for female Latina bodies, but also for women in general, to be intriguing. Our patriarchal society has made the natural flow of a woman’s blood during menstruation a taboo occurrence that is meant to embarrass women. A blood stain on your pants if your period begins when you are outside your bathroom is almost like a stain on your persona, because you will always be remembered as the “girl with the period stain on her pants,” however, if your finger or nose or toe started to randomly bleed, that same stigma would not be attached to you. Thus, blood flowing outside of the confines of a woman’s flesh and a woman’s body, becomes a state of emergency, because it is unattractive and unappealing to men. After all, one of the most prominent images of the Virgin Mary is the Imaculada, the stainless Mary. Additionally, a woman does not necessarily have the choice or agency to decide whether she wants to contain her blood flow during menstruation, because our patriarchal society has taken away that agency from her, and created the unspoken and ubiquitous rule that menstrual blood flow must be contained, and controlled. Interestingly, although a menstruating woman is considered to be unholy and dirty, a woman that is unable to menstruate is often considered to be ‘less of a woman,’ because she does not have the ability to reproduce. Moreover, I found Ana Mendieta’s art to be very symbolic of the contentious relationship between the flow of blood and blood stains that women have to continuously contend with, especially evidenced in her piece Body Tracks (1974), “where, facing a wall, her raised hands coated with red paint, she let herself slide down to the ground, leaving behind the blurred outlines of her movement.”
According to Anidjar, capitalism has transmuted the flow of blood for the flow of capital. Capitalism and labor in our world and society are structured around the needs of men, not those of women. Latinas, especially, bear the brunt of this unjust capitalist structure, because they have historically been taught and ingrained to accept undignified actions and phenomena with grace, humility, and dignity. Furthermore, many Latina women often do physically intensive hard labor jobs even when they are on their period in order to make ends meet for their families. Thus, our capitalist society is not only built on the blood of those ignored, subjugated, and forgotten, but also continues to consume the blood of those same individuals. It infuriates me that in certain countries like India, feminine hygiene products are taxed, but condoms are not. Numerous other unjust practices continue to occur in our world that discriminate against women, and prove that our capitalist society runs by the will of the men who envisioned it in the first place, and on the blood of those that are afterthoughts for them.
Talking about periods has always been fascinating to me because of the lack of enthusiasm people speak about it. Women, stay from days to sometimes weak, feeling pain, discomfort, literally bleeding and fluctuating hormones and still manage to live their lives. This should be a celebration, it’s not a weakness, it is not gross or shameful, like there is no way males could go through it. When I was 14-15 years old I found a video on youtube that really changed my perspective about periods. A group of women would collect and refrigerate their menstrual blood and every month they would gather and paint painting using their menstrual bloods. These women work to actively revalue gendered blood. By dismissing menstruation, we dismiss women. By deeming menstruation as unvaluable and shameful, you are silencing the experiences of women and their blood, erasing and not even considering menstruation as an issue. Jesus’s blood is heroic, war painting show blood to symbolize all of the heroes in a battlefield, but women are reduced to immorality. Female bodies can be drawn, sculputed and photographed for male pleasure, but the line is crossed when it comes to blood.
When looking at religion and blood, except for the male heroism and the Christian God demanding sacrifices with blood to prove people’s love for him, I think of Judaism. Even though there are ways to convert, “birth-right” is a concept that flows from blood and not conversion. You don’t need to practice Judaism, but you will always be jewish because of your blood. Specifically, female blood. Judaism is saying that blood is something immutable, it cannot be changed, and that because of blood, the heritage of jewish beliefs and sacredness will always be within you.
I believe that blood and flesh are deeply interconnected ideas that stem from socio religious impulses to distinguish between the inherent value of different people in order to enforce order. The conversations that we had in class regarding the incredibly unjust double standard with which society views female blood as supposed to male blood, we see a different set of expectations for both sexes. For women, the value of their personhood or flesh is so intimately tied to their ability to produce children and sexually belong to only one man. There is an underlying theme that a “public woman”, a woman who is not under the “ownership” of the community’s men, is inherently a threat to her father/male relatives since her refusal to submit to a man implies that they lack masculinity/ability to protect their family’s “honor”. The mere act of being and unapologetically taking up space is an act of resistance that society seeks to crush and attack at every opportunity. The free flow of blood that naturally occurs totally out of the control of women during periods is an excellent example and I was amazed in class by the experiences of my classmates having to go to such extreme measures in order to hide this. Being a man, I had never known how unreasonable and harmful our expectations of women are when it comes to periods. The fact that I had been able to go on for so long without knowing this is a testament to how this issue is so aggressively silenced and stigmatized. The supposed ethical issues when it comes to the usage of birth control or tampons to control periods struck as the contradictory but equally dehumanizing control that society seeks to exert over a woman’s flesh even more than over the flow of her blood. The flesh of a woman is given value based on its virginal status and ability to bear children in the confines of marriage. Without this value, a woman is theoretically in a disembodied state, where she occupies a body that is damaged or falls short of what men expect of her traditional female role. The use of a tampon, although for the purposes of hygiene, does theoretically threaten her hymen, and is therefore not viewed favorably by some. Ana Mendieta’s performance with the bleeding chicken symbolizes the sacrificial and objectifying way in which a Latina’s body is viewed. The chicken’s white feathers are so quickly covered in blood, showing how Latinas must desperately fight their biology, comfort, and hygiene in order to cling to the value of their flesh/blood, or else symbolically meet the same fate as the chicken.