Opinion: Foreign tourist’s viral TikTok crusade against menstruation ban in Balinese temple is insultingly myopic

Screengrabs: TikTok
Screengrabs: TikTok

So you’re on vacation in Bali and you come across a sign that says women on their period are not allowed to enter a holy temple. So you decide to express your annoyance and disappointment over this local custom with a TikTok video? Well, that’s certainly one way to get netizens on the case. 

TikTok user @nataliamuchova did as much recently when she pointed out in a video uploaded to the platform how local customs in Bali, which prohibits women who are menstruating from entering the temple, is discriminatory. 

“So I wanted to go and see a temple. But guess what? I’m on my period, and ‘entrance to menstruating women is strictly forbidden’ because you know, what’s going on down here is completely unholy and very dirty,” Muchova said in the video. 

Well, we don’t mean to break her streak on fighting the patriarchy (‘cause we know that shit needs to go down) but there is such a thing as being respectful of other cultures. In different parts of the world, including Bali, it goes beyond mainstream understanding of what’s right and wrong, and Muchova, for her part, didn’t seem to take that into account. 

Bali, after all, is a deeply traditional and spiritual place. Balinese people carry out both simple and elaborate religious ceremonies and routines without fail, and temples are such revered holy sites that serves them great importance. The local beliefs parallel with many superstitions, too, which are likely not very commonplace in non-Asian countries. But does that mean tourists can or should just bring their righteousness into the mix? 

Netizens, both Indonesians and foreign, are expressing their criticisms along these similar lines, as illustrated in some comments and tweets below: 

“Honestly, if you can’t respect other people[‘s] culture, don’t even think of traveling.” 

“It’s not discrimination, it’s part of the religion. We have the same thing in NZ for certain Taonga areas.” 

“I’m Balinese, I’m also a woman and it’s about how you respect our cultures and what we believe in, not just biological things inside your head.”

And let’s not forget the superstitious Indonesians, pointing out that she’s probably never had a supernatural encounter. 

“She’s probably has never been ketempelan.

Ketempelan refers to a superstitious belief that supernatural beings attaching themselves to the living, after the latter doing something that’s believed to summon them.

Twitter user Carrisa Tehputri, who is Balinese herself, offers an added explanation. According to her, people with certain conditions are referred to as “cuntaka,” a Balinese word that directly translates to dirty or unclean, and means contaminated in a religious sense. Carrisa says that menstruating women, the injured, the sick, and those whose family members have just passed away fall into this category, among others.

“Why? Because according to our belief the sacredness of the temple will be compromised,” Carrisa wrote on Twitter.

“Balinese people are superstitious and we have the right to be. We have the right to embrace our culture and beliefs, especially in our own home.”

Well, Muchova doesn’t seem to buy this whole “cultural” argument, and in another video she attempted to justify her previous criticism and highlighted that the so-called “discrimination” is “not okay, no matter the culture or religion or tradition.”

“With all respect, seriously, you can’t keep discriminating [against] women and make them feel embarrassed and exclude them, and make them feel ashamed for something so natural as periods,” she said in the video. 

Here, Muchova seems to forget that in calling out the “discrimination” of women who are on their periods without respectfully acknowledging longstanding customs and beliefs here in Bali, she has practiced her own discrimination that infringes on the agency of local women and what they believe to be true. 

To be fair, we haven’t heard Muchova declaring herself as an advocate of gender equality, but if that’s the sort of activism she’s bringing to the table, it seems to exclude people who are facing complex barriers to reach that goal and who happen to hold other beliefs that may indeed have some patriarchal roots within it. It’s just not that simple, is it? Otherwise, we’d all be equal already. 


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