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Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation Hardcover – Bargain Price, November 10, 2009

48 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, November 10, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Written like a sassy young women's magazine with first-person narrative and the occasional astonished exclamation point, a normally taboo topic claims attention with the surprising-and sometimes horrifying-history of cultural reactions to menstruation (Pliny believed menstrual blood was toxic to flora and fauna), feminine "hygiene," and the enticing yet under-researched future of period-free birth control methods. Sprinkled throughout with entertainingly naïve ads from each era of the 20th-century as well as many references to scientific findings, author and graphic designer Stein and Kim, a graphic novelist (Circle of Spies) and writer of the play adaptation of The Joy Luck Club, evoke a light-hearted tone about their serious subject. They cover everything from menarche to menopause, including what menstruation is (which receives an outstandingly clear explanation) plus an enlightening discussion of the pad v. tampon debate, which at bottom was a sophisticated marketing strategy. Perfect for a preteen's introduction to adulthood and for women of all ages, this is guaranteed to spark conversation about old early sanitary technology (belts and pins), the pad's evolution, during WWI, when nurses found cellulose bandages more absorbent than plain cotton, and whether this universal female experience is a blessing, a curse-or just part of life.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Stein and Kim wonder whether, in all of human history, anything else has been so reviled, so honored, so fear-inspiring, so mysterious (even to its hostesses), or so marketable as menstruation. Throughout millennia, the monthly act of shedding blood has stymied everyone from religious leaders to philosophers to physicians and scientists. Until the Industrial Revolution, that is, when feminine-care marketers began hauling in carloads of profits on the strength of proving to women that their monthly body function needed this gizmo or that potion, all the while referring to menstruation only in the most oblique terms—all that even a sumptuary society allowed. But at long last, along have come these two women to give us as plain-speaking, comprehensive, and witty a compendium of menarcheal information and reference as we’ve ever had. There is probably no better book for moms who want their daughters to respect themselves in every aspect, and for female preteens and teens who would never say a word about their moms reading a book about menses but surely would like several sneak peeks into its pages. One can only ask Stein and Kim, What took you so long? --Donna Chavez

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1 edition (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031237996X
  • ASIN: B0045JK6CY
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #996,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Mary Esterhammer-Fic VINE VOICE on February 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is informative, disturbing, infuriating....and fun. The authors address the gamut of issues involving menstruation, from physiological causes/effects, to cultural taboos and traditions, social history and ethical concerns. The writing style at times is a little TOO breezy/chatty, but the illustrations (a lot of vintage advertisements for "femcare products") more than make up for that. Even though this book is packed with data, and offers a lot of food for thought, you can sail through it in one sitting. Even a casual reading will give you insights into this pivotal, and still largely hidden, aspect of women's lives. Some examples:

--References to menstruation are still largely euphemistic; the best one listed here is the Danish phrase, "The Communists are in the funhouse!"

--Way back in 1918, Sears, Roebuck used to sell vibrators. With attachments.

--Primates (like us) and some species of bats and shrews are the only mammals that really mentstruate.

--Lysol douches were popular from the 1920's until the 1960's. Lysol, which shares germicidal properties with carbolic acid, was a highly recommended treatment for "offensive" vaginal odors. This initiated a vicious cycle, so to speak: a self-conscious, but often healthy, woman would douche with Lysol and kill off normal flora (and scald her tissues), which would pave the way for bacterial/yeast infections, which WOULD cause an offensive odor, which would compel her to douche more often. Because an abnormal body odor in a normally clean person indicates an underlying problem, women who actually did have a raging infection only made matters worse with this frequent purging.

--Menstruating women have more nightmares, and erotic dreams, then when not menstruating.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Mascara on December 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow. I can't finish this book. First, the lackadasical "folksy" tone became grating on my nerves halfway through the first chapter, but I figured I'd press on and give the authors a chance to deliver some insight into the social issues surrounding female reproduction and menstruation. The insight never came, though. There were plenty of irritating misuses of facts, however, and a supremely annoying tendency for the authors to beat the dead horse of the birth control pill, all the while making snide remarks about the "less enlightened" people from the ancient Babylonians to our grandparents' generation to Native Americans and male gynocolgists. The constant tone of "OMG those [insert generation/nationality/historical figure] were so stupid!" got old really quick. I finally had to throw in the towel after the authors alleged, without offering any sources to back up the ridiculous claim, that "British columbian Indians" would leave their menstruating adolescent girls in the wilderness for 3 or 4 years.

Uh, I would love to see your documentation for that, ladies. Hell, I'd love to see ANY documentation that went into the writing of this book. The glee with which the authors make these bizarre claims and then fail to either explain or discuss them just did not speak well for their credibility. I realize not everyone wants to wade through footnotes and academic jaargon, but the lack of analytical thought in this book was pretty galling.

This book had a lot of potential, because a cultural history of menstruation is definitely a fascinating subject, but an 8th grade student could have done a better job writing it.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By LunaC on December 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I got this book hoping for a good read covering different cultural perspectives and some good science about menstruation. There's really little actual scientific information and while the authors repeatedly lament the lack of good studies on the subject I can't help but be disappointed that while the back cover claims "Flow answers questions such as: What's the point of getting a period?" in fact the authors only make very brief mention of a couple of theories and admit that no one knows. Not exactly their fault that the subject hasn't been throughly studied, but a bit misleading to people buying the book wanting to find out.

The cultural aspect is mostly limited to discussing how attitudes in America have changed over the last 200 years with a few passing references to other cultures. Fine if that is what you are looking for but I was expecting a bit more from "The Cultural Story of Menstruation"

Probably the biggest disappointment to me is how everything seems to revolve around the assumption of a "normal" healthy flow. While repeatedly admitting that many women have much worse experiences the authors do not seem to have gained any real knowledge of what that is like before writing this book.

The vintage ads liberally incorporated through the book dating back to the 1800's are probably the best reason to look at this book; old medical ads are always good for horror and laughs.

I wish that the authors treated "alternative" treatments for PMS problems with the same distrustful outlook they regard large pharmaceutical companies with. Being "natural" doesn't make them harmless. It shouldn't be too much of a leap to look at the discredited "medicines" whose ads so amusingly adorn the pages of this book and then look at the claims of the largely unregulated alternative treatments market and suspect that perhaps some of today's untested treatments will be viewed the same way 100 years hence.
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