Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
2 journalers for this copy...
The book turns out to be an interesting (and often maddening) look at the subject, primarily as treated in the US but with notes on other cultures' practices turning up here and there. And there are lots and lots of reproductions of ads, advice columns, educational pamphlets, etc., many of them hilarious.
The authors' tone is bright, breezy, and flippant, for the most part, and quite readable. They include lots of helpful information (including an extensive bibliography of books and web sites). They open with "five things we didn't know before we wrote this book," and go on to discuss everything from language (the words used to describe menstruation indicate that culture's feelings about the subject) to "where we are now" regarding ways to handle periods. They look at historical views of the female reproductive system, and the way-off-base ideas that in many cases survived until an embarrassingly recent date. The chapter "seeing red" goes into the moody-hormone-swing/PMS situation, and includes a reference to a delightful study in which researchers "listed classic symptoms of PMS, but replaced the term with the gender-neutral Episodic Dysphoric Disorder. A surprising number of men felt they had suffered from it, and their female friends agreed with them." The authors speculate that perhaps being cyclically moody is human nature...
Those of us old enough to remember the early days of maxi-pads that had to be worn with little elastic belts will either smile or wince (or perhaps both) at some of the vintage ads included here. There's a two-page spread of Modess ads from the '50s, in which lovely models in exquisite designer gowns are shown wafting about the landscape, with the oh-so-helpful caption "Modess... because". I guess the concept of content-free ads has been around for some time! But not all ads were this discreet; there's a list of excerpts from other ads from the '30s to the '50s, titled "Vaginal Odor as Soap Opera", in which women were urged to buy "vaginal cleansing" items (including such substances as Lysol!), to avoid the "intimate neglect" that could turn off their husbands.
The chapter on a girl's first period touches on different cultural handling of such, from making it a huge deal, a literal coming-of-age, to trying to keep it as hush-hush as possible - and sometimes both, as when well-meaning family members try to make an occasion of something that the girls in question would prefer to have ignored.
This was fun to poke through. Some good information, and lots of cool old advertising.
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