Quacks, tampons, and the Great Physician: Restoring Women’s Dignity in Christianity

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Author: Eileen Lee

There is a new game going around, with nearly as much popularity as “Angry Birds” or “Plants vs. Zombies.” But this game has tampons in it. In gleeful parody of “Temple Run”, in the newly-developed “Tampon Run,” the player is tasked with firing tampons instead of guns. Power-ups include super absorbent maxi-pads.

Developed by Sophie House and Andy Gonzales of the program “Girls Who Code,” “Tampon Run” was created as a response to discrimination against females in the gaming world—and in general the science and engineering fields. As I read various articles about these ladies’ efforts towards justice for women, I was reminded of a story in the Bible that strangely has a very similar situation. Most people would not think the Bible as a book to mention periods, but it does. It goes something like this:

“And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’’ And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’” (‭Mark‬ ‭5‬:‭25-34‬ ESV)

So yes, the Bible mentions periods, and it does not downplay their existence nor the pain they cause. Not only did the woman in the story have a condition that left her bleeding with a perpetual period for 12 years straight—that is already bad—but according to the religious laws at that time, she was also considered ritually unclean for all 12 years. Purity and cleanliness laws during menstruation required that women stay inside, isolated away from others whom they might make also ritually unclean via physical touch, until their bleeding was over. For most women, because their bodies were healthy and cooperative, this was only a three- to five-day issue every month. Twelve years, though, is a completely different thing.

For this woman, it meant constant torment and physical pain. But more so, it meant unending humiliation and shame—emotional and spiritual pain she could not escape. She was undesirable as a wife and unable to have children. No one even wanted to be in her presence, for fear of becoming unclean as well through her affliction. She was even eventually rendered impoverished because she spent all her money on doctors, whom she only “suffered under” and grew no better.

Left in this situation, her actions were both incredibly desperate and incredibly gutsy. In simply walking through the crowd in public, she defied all sorts of cleansing laws. And to purposefully touch a renowned rabbi, a man who was regarded to be at least extremely holy, and at most a king, a woman in an unclean state would have been seen as extremely disrespectful, if not sacrilegious.

I am not enough a scholar of the Bible to know the reasons for developing such ritual laws, or to judge whether they had some sort of benevolent or reasonable intent. What I can tell though, is that Jesus did not react as he should have, according to the social norms. He was not repulsed by the subject of menstruation, which is still regarded as an uncomfortable issue even today. He was not offended or appalled that she had just made him and many others around her ritually unclean.

Jesus drew attention to this woman, but he did not put her to shame. Instead, he listened. And then he praised her. He deliberately commended her in front of everyone for her courage, and for her persistent desire and faith to be healed. Owning up to his title as the Great Physician, he not only healed her physically, but also restored her dignity in the eyes of all the people.

Really, how is Jesus not empowering towards women in this?

Seeing the Great Physician in action makes me think back to the doctors that the same woman suffered under before she came to Jesus. Were they qualified doctors that really did try their best? Or were they offended people, too disgusted with her affliction to really care for the woman with dignity and humanity? When the Bible says she suffered under them, was it not only physical abuse, but emotional abuse as well from the very people who were supposed to care for her well-being?

And this makes me wonder if churches these days do the same. No—sadly, I know churches these days do the same. Too many, especially women, have gone to houses of God trying to find some sort of help, comfort, or acceptance and come out the other end devastated, even worse than before. Too many churches have been like those quack doctors or the crowd, who tore people down because they were offended; because some came pregnant, some came homeless, and some came addicted or ill. What a shame to the name and nature of Christ.

But what gives me hope are churches and Christians who do not take offense at the afflicted, but who deliberate action to overcome it. The greatest of these people are those who do not simply tolerate those seeking help, but who reach out and offer it. That is what I hope all churches will be like one day—places that people recognize as places of healing, instead of hurt places that no longer impose a condemnatory deity, but proclaim the compassionate and justice-minded Christ found in the Word of God.

It is a beautiful thing to see people and organizations bearing the name of Jesus actually being like Jesus. For all those who choose to bear his name are also called to emulate and live like the Great Physician, who lived up to that name himself. And that includes loving and respecting the dignity of women.

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