Tag Archives: women

The Undressing of Draupadi


Draupadi wanted to marry one of the 5 main brothers from the Mahabharatha, but another man, Duryodhana wants her to marry him instead. He proposes to her, but is refused. Upon this refusal, one of his brothers begins trying to rip Draupadi’s clothes off. Krishna sees this, and decides to save Draupadi by maker her clothing infinite. No matter how much cloth Duryodhana’s brother rips off of her, there is always more that she is still wearing. 


This story is from the Mahabharatha, and is a plot point in the main storyline. An extremely simplified synopsis of the Mahabharatha is that it’s about the war between 5 brothers and 100 of their other brothers (Note that brother and cousin are essentially synonymous in this context). The “good guys” are the 5 brothers, and they eventually end up winning the war. 

This story is a simple lesson that one should respect women, and that to undress them is not okay.


In Indian culture, arranged marriages are a common practice, and the final decision on whether a marriage happens is given to the family as a whole, not the woman getting married. This story encourages respecting a woman’s desires for her marriage, even if the cultural norm or law doesn’t fully require it, and backs that up with a god taking the side of Draupadi. This makes even more sense to me that this story is found somewhat in opposition of the cultural norm when I remember that many tales come from being told by women as they do busywork. They used what ways they could to better how they were treated, and instilling good habits and respect in their children is a very powerful way to do so.

Discrete Ways Women Reference their Menstrual Cycle

Informant Context: The informant is a nineteen-year-old female undergraduate student at the University of Southern California (USC).

Conversation Transcript:

Collector: “Could you share an example of tabooistic vocabulary you’d use in everyday life? Any indirect way you might reference an inappropriate topic. For example, instead of saying ‘we had sex’ one might say ‘we got to fourth base’.”

Informant: “Right. So like a euphemism?”

Collector: “Exactly.”

Informant: “I have a few for when I get my period. I’ll say ‘Miss Flow came to town this week.’ (laughs) Have you ever heard that one before?”

Collector: (laughs) “No, I haven’t!”

Informant: “I’ve also heard some people say ‘Japan has invaded’, you know because of the flag and its colors.”

Analysis: It was interesting to learn the creative ways other women reference their menstrual cycles. During my conversation with the informant, we were constantly laughing. The tabooistic phrases were funny because they aim only to be understood by a specific folk group (women of the female sex) who can personally identify with the menstruation process. For instance, the word “flow” in the first phrase is commonly used among women to describe bleeding during a period. The Japanese invasion phrase was comical since the country’s flag has similar imagery to blood spotting on a white pad. As members of the target folk group, the informant and I enjoyed these tabooistic phrases about menstruation.

Saying: We’re All Girls Here


“We’re all girls here”


The informant recounts that her old synchronized swim teacher would say this saying in response to young girls being afraid to change or be naked in the locker room. The intention as the informant remembers was to create a sense of solidarity and safety among the girls and to tell them that it was safe and not taboo to be naked in this space.

The informant also notes that she has brought this saying up with her boyfriend who has played football (and therefore, presumably been in many a men’s locker room). He was unfamiliar with the saying and did not recount a male equivalent to the phrase.


To me, this saying is an example of teaching or imposing gender on children. This phrase indicates a need to remind children of the gender systems around them. When children are young they are generally unaware of gender. when they go to school and exit their homes later in life they are introduced to gender and what that means for their lives. This saying informs young girls that around other girls and women it is safe and acceptable to be naked and show taboo body parts like genitals and secondary sexual characteristics. It also subtly indicates that it is unsafe or unacceptable to be naked around boys and men.

The fact that there was not a clear or memorable male equivalent saying indicates to me that boys and men are not held to the same standard of concealing their bodies. Nor are they taught of exposure being something dangerous.

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”

Background: The informant is a current USC student. She heard about this proverb from her grandma. She used this proverb as a reminder to stay away from snacks.

Informant: my grandma, she was from San Diego, and she always used to say, “A moment on the lips, a life time on the hips.” Because…like…I don’t know… she was just always like…… She’s from the 50s so the era where everybody was trying to be real skinny or what not and so she said this all the time about like… snacking. I guess it goes to show just sort of how like a lot of Californian’s having this obsession of being “healthy” in a way… Like trying to fit in this certain west coast beauty standard.

Analysis: I think this proverb contains both characteristics of an era and mindset amongst women (or the social expectation that is held against them). Interestingly, we can observe the change in beauty standards through this proverb. Since people prefer fuller hips nowadays, the warning part of the proverb seems to be more encouraging than deterring.

Don’t be Born on Eclipses

Background: The informant is a 50 year old man. He was born in Tecate, Mexico, moving to California when he was young. He grew up with his four siblings and two parents, moving from location to location across California. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: The context was when watching an astronomy show together on a streaming platform. They made a mention of an eclipse.


UI: Now, one superstition that I grew up with, that I was very well aware of and it’s going to sound completely strange, is that pregnant women should not go outside when there’s an eclipse. If a pregnant woman is outside during the time of an eclipse like that somehow or other, because of the eclipse, that the baby will be born deformed. Now, the thing with the eclipse is that, in actual fact, I don’t really know how it works. I don’t know if it’s because, you know, maybe the rays of the sun get distorted or, you know, I mean look in aztec culture they would look at it [eclipses] when they occurred. During the times of the Aztecs it was sort of like,  the moon is fighting with the sun and and the sun is overcoming the moon, It’s just something I’ve always remembered as a kid.

Me: Who did you hear it from?

UI: I had heard it from my mom. I had heard it from friends.

Me: What about when your wife was pregnant?

UI: There was an eclipse, and after explaining it to her, she understood and stayed inside.


Informant: The informant understands that the superstition may be considered strange by many people, self-aware that the superstition may not be well spread throughout his family. However, it is clear that the informant still believes in superstition to a strong degree.

Mine: The superstition was something new to me. It reveals a few things about Mexican culture. The first is the protective nature over pregnant women and the baby they are carrying. Since women are treated very delicately by this superstition, it would be interesting to see how it compares with other Mexican folkloric ideas. Second, not wanting the women to be exposed during an eclipse so that the baby will not be deformed shows a societal, not just Mexican, belief against children who are not born healthy. It has some negative connotations that a baby with defects is not wanted. However, that is a more modern interpretation of the superstition, and placing it into a past time period, many women used to die during childhood or their children would die when extremely young. Anything would want to be done to protect the child and the mother. If a baby does have deformities, it could ned up hurting the mother or the child might not live for long, which was extremely concerning.