Thursday, December 17, 2009

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

The title: Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
The author(s): Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
Publication: St. Martin's Press, 2009
Got it from: The library

"In this hip, hilarious, and truly eye-opening cultural history, menstruation is talked about as never before. Flow is a fascinating, occasionally wacky, and sometimes downright scary story." Scary is right.
If just reading the title of this book makes you queasy (and you know who you are), you need to read this book, stat. The first thing you'll notice is that it's chock full of hilarious and horrifying ads from the femcare industry spanning back to the 19th century. But you'd be mistaken if you thought this book was just a repository of those wacky old ads from the dinosaur days. Instead, Stein and Kim provide a comprehensive history of where we were and why we're here today - and why, in so-called enlightened times, we still can't talk openly about our periods.

This may just be the best non-fiction book I've read all year. It's certainly the most sensible, coming as it does from a feminist perspective that's witty, intelligent and skeptical of anybody who's looking to make a quick buck off women and their "problems." I almost cheered when they talked about how ridiculous it is that menstruation is still so taboo, as if it's an abnormal disease, or how horrifying it is that millions of women still douche despite how dangerous and upsetting it is to our vaginas. (Noses, it should be pointed out, are dirtier and secrete more mucous, but you don't find anybody telling us to stick tampons up them and wash them out with dangerous chemicals that cause infections). In fact, their argument (and I've been saying this for years) is that despite what femcare companies keep telling us, periods are NO BIG DEAL. In fact, they're a sign that everything is just fine.

What struck me most about this work, and it should come as no surprise to any feminist, is that there has been so little research done on periods that scientists can barely explain the most basic of functions. I had no idea, for instance, that the ovaries actually select about twenty eggs a month but only one gets to grow to maturity and be released, while the rest get killed off. Or that when the follicle bursts to release the egg, it leaves scars on our ovaries until by the time we reach menopause, our ovaries look like they've been through battle. (I don't remember this from grade seven sex ed!) And here's the really scary part - there have been almost no studies on the long-term effects of chemicals in tampons, taking horse urine medicine to treat menopause (millions of women do) and chemically stopping your periods. What we DO know is that the effects aren't good. Women still get toxic shock syndrome from tampons, cancer from hormone replacement therapies and a whole host of problems from lowered estrogen levels that stopping your periods brings.

And can somebody please explain how menstrual products are still considered "luxuries" and taxed? I'm still mad about this one.

I urge you to read this book and make it your feminist act of the year. (Mine was tearing down "men's rights" ads in front of the library that wanted to stop funding to Amnesty International because the organization supported women who were beaten by their spouses. This apparently "made men look bad." Look, people. Amnesty International doesn't make men look bad. Men being assholes makes men look bad). At the very least, read this book so that you can feel better about your period, or help you realize what's going on with the ladies in your life if you're a man. We all need to be better informed about menstruation.


Anonymous said...

This sounds really good...I am definitely going to look this one up.

You're right about it being taboo (well, along with female pleasure..or hell..anything to do with normal women being normal). I think I told you (not sure) that a friend of mine stated that his band's songs had covered such topics as masturbation , STDs etc, but had finally reached "a low point: menstruation." How appalling is it that the "new LOW" is something that is natural for more than half the population.

Merry Christmas!


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