Clare Daly – Menstruation – The Ultimate Taboo

THE LETTER 12 Spring 1998, pages 87-93


For centuries, woman’s menstruation has been viewed negatively. Anthropology confirms that there is an almost universal taboo concerning menses. This suggests that there must be a more broadly based explanation than the merely religio-cultural one.

Psychoanalysis might be expected to provide a deeper understanding. Freud, its founder, fails to deal with it adequately, despite its obvious potential role in castration anxiety and the Oedipus Complex. This failure may result from conflicts in his relationship with Fliess, especially surrounding the case of Emma Eckstein.

My own experience as a mother has led me to the belief that knowledge and visual evidence of the mother’s cyclical bleeding can lead to deep seated anxieties in a male child. Regarding the literature, one psychoanalyst has addressed this taboo subject. Claude Dagmar Daly, describes this influence of the mother’s menstruation on the child and warned that though its actuality was one of the simplest and most obvious truths in psychoanalysis, it was ‘the simplest truths that are often the last to be believed’.


Taking its precedent in Freud’s reporting of his observation of his grandson’s now famous ‘fort! da!’ game and his account of his daughter Anna’s dream of ‘stwawbewwies, omblet, pudden’, this paper began as I was watching my three and a half year old son playing on the floor with his father. The game involved my son chasing an imaginary and frightening hippopotamus. When he succeeded in capturing the animal he turned to his father and declared in an intense voice ‘I will eat his eyes’. With this task completed he then apparently changed tack. He seized on a female doll, one…

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