The Wives of the Sun and Moon

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 3(1): 133-153

In much Native American mythology marriage is conceptualized as a monthly honeymoon interrupted at each dark moon by menstruation. Woman’s monthly alternation between marital sex and menstrual seclusion is coded as an alternation between her rival partners, Sun and Moon. Against this background, a Plains Indian myth attempts to come to terms with a novel problem. With the introduction of patrilocal residence, a woman must stay with her husband and his relatives even when she is menstruating. It is as if her two rival partners, instead of living apart, had come to occupy the same space together, limiting her movement and precluding her escape. Such permanency in marriage, overriding menstrual periodicity is experienced as a dangerous violation of ritual norms. Exploring the consequent difficulties and contradictions, the myth finds a way of validating the new arrangement. This story along with many others analysed by Lévi- Strauss analysis in the light of his own ‘exchange of women’ theory of human cultural origins. Re-analysed in the light of menstrual sex-strike theory however, it makes good sense, shedding light on the origins of women’s oppression.
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