The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
I love the women in my life. I value their wisdom and their experiences, even when I disagree with them. I wish I had more close female friends. I feel the power of the feminine in my gut. I wish I had a sister. And all of this is increased exponentially while reading The Red Tent.
It's about Dinah who, the Hebrew Scriptures tell us, was so beautiful that a young man fell in love with her, raped her, then asked for her in marriage. Her 12 brothers (Joseph and that lot) were enraged and agreed to the marriage only if the man and his entire city would get circumcised. Then, on the third day and while the men were still in pain from the minor surgery, the brothers snuck in and killed them all. Dinah is property, is raped, and has nothing to say for herself. She disappears between the lines, dying the death of countless women through the ages.
Diamant brings her back to life. We hear her mothers' stories and learn about life in the red tent, the women's shelter for menstruation and childbirth. We hear about their rituals and their unflinchingly difficult lives. We hear about the power of shared female history, about the beauty of menstruation.
I don't know about you, but I feel like I've made apologies for being a woman for much of my life. Certainly things are different and better in 2007CE than 2007BCE, yet I grew up hating that time of the month, feeling embarrassed about what my body was doing, disgusted, mortified that someone would find out about it. For these women, the blood signifies not shame or the end of something but life. Beginning a new cycle of the moon means new life can come. Blood is so primal, so earthy; it connects these women to the soil they till by day and to the God who created it. They say men have feared a woman's menstruation, that she bleeds but does not die, and that is why women used to be isolated from the group. But these women voluntarily and joyfully go to the red tent to sing, to celebrate their lives, to take a couple days off. Later in her life, Dina says, "What can a woman tell a man about babies and blood?" It is so personal to us and yet so universal. Why are we ashamed?