Womanist Musings recently put up a thoughtful, interesting, and well-stated post about menstruation, Islam, and prayer. Obviously I can't comment with any kind of depth or authority on that particular topic, but reading through the post, its links, and its comments reminded me of something similar which occurred in my time in the LDS church.
When I was a teenager growing up Mormon, I took a lot of trips to the temple. My family was lucky enough to live close to the Orlando, FL temple, and I took many trips there with my parents and with my ward to do baptisms for the dead (the only temple ordinance Mormon teens are allowed to perform). These are literal baptisms; they involve immersion in a tank of water, and the ritual garments worn by the participants are white.
Now before we went into the chapel to sing and pray before the baptisms started, one of the female leaders present would ask me and the other teenage girls if we were menstruating. If we were, we would only be allowed to participate in the laying-on-of-hands (blessing) which is the second portion of the baptism for the dead rite. No dunking. After our song and prayer in the chapel, whatever bishopric member or other priesthood holder who was leading that night would ask the female leader present how many girls were going to be being baptized. Of course Sister So-and-so didn't name any names or point at us, but it became quite clear very soon after who had their period that day--it was whoever wasn't sitting in line to be immersed.
I don't know if this still occurs, or if it was or is widespread, or indeed if it has anything to do with doctrine. Logistically, there's nothing wrong with not wanting there to be blood in the baptismal font, especially since white clothes are involved. But quite frankly, I don't give a shit. This occurrence embarrassed me then and it infuriates me now. Women were singled out publically for something beyond their control, something that is both idolized and demeaned by the church proper. I don't actually care now if the world at large knows I'm on the rag, but I sure did when I was a teenager, partly because no one had bothered to talk about my body with me--because it was shameful and dirty and functionally nonexistent until I had a wedding ring on my finger. The LDS church--like many other institutions, I'm sure--likes to go on about the wonder of motherhood and how great it is that women give birth, etc.; it also likes to not ever talk about those things that make motherhood possible, and it certainly reinforces the popular attitude that menstruation is something either funny or gross, not something normal, even boring, sometimes holy.
At least, the church authority system does. That doesn't necessarily mean that every member feels this way, and let me tell you, all the advice and gossip and bitching about periods I got while a teen Mormon, I got in church settings (usually Girls' Camp). So thanks, Kelly, for teaching me how to use a tampon. Thanks, Sister Hill, for telling me that yes, it's ok to ask Mom for Advil during That Week. Thank you, ladies, for being there for me to complain to and ask questions of. No thanks at all to you, gents, for making me complicit in the mockery of my own body.