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Ulayya bint al-Mahdi: The Period Joke

Ulayya bint al-Mahdi

The Period Joke

(777–825, Baghdad)

Surely, people have been joking about periods for as long as blood has been hilariously pouring out of vaginas.


But Ulayya is the first woman to have a period joke one record, at least that I’ve found. (Have you found an earlier period joke by a woman?? I’d love to hear it!!)

So, let’s travel back in time to the Abbasid Empire. It’s the golden age of Islam!

Ulayya was born into an elite family. She was a princess, a poet and a musician.

She was also a courtesan, one of “a small number of women at the highest level of a complex hierarchy of female denizens of imperial urban culture.”

Part of a courtesan’s job was to entertain through poetry. Ulayya was a wealthy and respected poet of the time—not as flamboyant as some of her contemporaries, but with a quiet wit all her own.

She’s known for her love poems, which were aimed not at her husband, but at two other men of the court.

“I held back my love's name and kept repeating it to myself.

Oh how I long for an empty space to call out the name I love.”

Oh, the scandal!

But on to the period joke, which is the reason we’re all here.

BBC History reports: “Many members of the court drank alcohol, except for the strictest Muslims among them

...but Ulayya insisted that she drank wine only when she was on her period – because menstruating women couldn’t participate in prayers.”

Ulayya said: “God does not forbid anything without giving some way of making it permissible in exchange.”

So basically, God said, I gave women periods so they could sneak around the no-drinking, no-prayers policy? I think???

I don’t 100% understand, but apparently this joke was 100% That Bitch back in the day, and it has survived the test of time, which is a freaking miracle just like the Diva Cup.

There’s plenty more to know about Ulayya!

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