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April 16, 2018 | by  | in Editorial Opinion | [ssba]

Touching on Taboo

I was sitting with Daniel our feature writer, trying to come up with things that were taboo. “Nothing’s taboo anymore,” he said. “Sex isn’t taboo, drugs aren’t really taboo either (except for meth and I really don’t want to go there)… I don’t really know what to write about.”

But as it turns out, there’s just as much taboo as there ever was. Taboo is hard to recognise sometimes because it’s not a set of rules written down. We know something’s taboo from a gut feeling we get, a sense of unease and discomfort.. So writing about taboo imposes a double whammy — first you gotta recognise that it’s there, and secondly you gotta go there.

I know that we’ve left a lot of the bigger taboos untouched — pedophilia, cannibalism, and all the taboos surrounding death, dirt, and disease. That’s all good, we can’t cover everything all at once. We live in a world full of prescribed social rules, there are soo many unwritten understandings around what’s an okay way to behave and what’s not. We follow these rules without thinking or even being aware of it most of the time.

For example. It’s taboo to lick a supermarket clerk. Taboo to pat a lecturer on the head. Taboo to show menstrual blood in public. Taboo to wear shoes to bed. Taboo to cry in public. Etc. etc. etc.

I think Daniel had trouble thinking up of taboos because in the current social climate we exist in (you know the one, I couldn’t think of the definitive term for it but, SJW, 3rd wave feminism, “woke”, you get the idea), we’re actively tryna eradicate the taboos around sex and drugs, and when you exist within that this culture it seems like those taboos are already gone.

A lot of the time, we’re writing about taboos to try and challenge the ones that we think shouldn’t be there. We’re wading in the soft blurry lines between what’s taboo and what’s not, and tryna nudge popular opinion towards the latter.

Ella’s column about her experience with chlamydia is a great example. The taboo surrounding sexually transmitted infections harms people because it prevents people from seeking treatment, creates a sense of shame about something that’s outside people’s control, and makes it hard to communicate clearly with sexual partners. By speaking openly about her own experience, she’s lessening the taboo.

All our writers have different takes on taboo, which is pretty legit for a term that relies on our intuition to define it. Ngai Tauira’s column about tapu is really interesting, because while the word “taboo” comes from “tapu”, the two have very different meanings today, and it’s worth reflecting on why that may be.

Take care,


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