Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
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Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

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3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  710 ratings  ·  167 reviews

In this hip, hilarious and truly eye-opening cultural history, menstruation is talked about as never before. Flow spans its fascinating, occasionally wacky and sometimes downright scary story: from mikvahs (ritual cleansing baths) to menopause, hysteria to hysterectomies—not to mention the Pill, cramps, the history of underwear, and the movie about puberty they showed yo

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Hardcover, 254 pages
Published November 10th 2009 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published November 5th 2009)
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Jane
First, I want to point out that I like the idea of this book. The argument that women have always been period-hating victims of men and the femcare industry's judgement and marketing is cool with me; I hate the femcare industry and like yelling about misogynism as much as the next lady. The many vintage advertisements and illustrations are nice, and realizing that "water cure" meant "water-stimulated orgasm to relieve hysteria" was pretty cool.

However.

Several things about the book rubbed me the...more
Loederkoningin

Femicin ad, 1968

Thank fuck for three waves of feminism.

Nina
Easy, entertaining and informative.
It's the light kind of non-fiction - the one that feels more like a casual chat with someone who knows what they're talking about than a textbook - and just the right book for a certain someone to get started on her New Year's resolution to read more non-fiction. Get reacquainted with real life, you know.

There's some horrifying stuff in here, mostly with regards to how women have handled and viewed their period through the centuries, and at times it can feel a...more
Susanne
Dec 31, 2009 Susanne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All women
I did not *enjoy* this book, per se. (See here) But it was a truly informative read.

Sure, there are some tiny mistakes (for example, doctors endeavoring to produce hysterical paroxysm did not *always* have the patient stand - the patient could also be reclining) but that is being nit-picky. And the tone can be a little too full-on "How can anyone not love their period?" (Quite easily, thank you.) But the book makes up for this by providing you with some eye-opening facts about how menstruation h...more
Christina
The authors use a lively, irreverent tone to take readers through the history and American cultural experience involving menstruation, that very taboo subject. I feel that the book is strongest when they assert that a natural biological process associated with fertility has been co-opted by the "femcare" industry into a monthly event that is feared and hated, mostly for the purposes of selling us products -- pads, tampons, hormonal replacement therapy, Midol, what have you. (No surprise: that's...more
Traci
I love the cover of this book, and let's face it, it sounded like it might be interesting. This time the cover art and the description did the book justice; it was interesting, and fun to boot.

The authors are women, and often I found myself thinking this sounded more like a day out with the girls than a primer on the history of menstruation and all things associated with it. The writing has a very nice, easy "you-are-there" style, which helps as sometimes the subject matter is just - well - yeah...more
Eileen
I reserved this at the library because I saw a couple snippets of Susan Kim speaking with Sarah Haskins. Advertising+feminism+humor=great, right? Pretty much, yes.

Although I knew a good amount of the information in this book before I read it--dioxin in tampons, clitoral orgasm as historical cure for hysteria, condescending faux-medical femcare advertising, etc.--I also learned a reasonable amount of new info. For those less knowledgeable about the contemporary western cultural history of menstru...more
Melody
This was a fun book, jazzed up with lots of vintage ads. The authors' bias is clearly feminist and anti-big-pharma, so I was in their court from page one. If I have a complaint about this book, it's that it skews pretty young. There's one breezy chapter covering perimenopause and beyond- and that's it. So the target audience is considerably younger than your intrepid reviewer, who admits to more than a passing interest in hot flashes and scary clots the size of Rhode Island. Not that this kept m...more
Sarah
2.5 stars. This is a great idea for a book, and it looks fantastic--the design and layout are top-notch. And all the vintage advertisments for feminine products were really great to look at. But for me, the writing style really grated. It felt like reading Seventeen magazine--preachy, didactic, and way too cutesy. Adding to the the feeling that I was reading something aimed at youth rather than adults was all the repetitive, careful explanation about drug companies and makers of feminine product...more
Kerrie
The absolute best part of this book are the vintage ads. Truly, they will make any sentient female ragey and glad-oh-so-glad that we don't live in the 1950s anymore. They were not the Good Old Days despite certain parties who would very much like to return society backward to that period of time.

The tone of the book, however...

*big breath* OK, I don't know what planet these authors live on, but their constant references to a period being only "a few days" of bleeding really chapped my ass. A few...more
Natalie
Birthday present!!

__________________________

I didn't care for the "We're just a couple of girlfriends chatting!" conversational style that the authors took in a lot of places, but overall this was a VERY informative book. I dug all the vintage menstruation-related advertisements, too.
Carolyn
The profound cis-bias in this retrospective work proves uncomfortable, considering its apparent feminist origins. Altogether, the determination of the authors is shot down in their own failure to look outside the realms of the second wave of feminism. The nature of 'Flow' as chronicle to menstruation produces polar statements in the presentation of varying historical perspectives. For instance, the book bears emphasis upon the uterus-bearing person as physiologically and psychologically independ...more
Ashley
I loved, LOVED this book! It's the sort of thing that I think all women should read. It was hilarious yet informative. I've been menstruating for ten years now and there are a lot of points (some that can greatly affect your health!) that this book brings up that I've never even considered because the idea that menstruation is still (oddly) so taboo to talk about. More women should be open to having discussions that the book poses. It's the most natural thing in the world for women but we've som...more
Kaye
The subject matter was very interesting (maybe not for men, but fascinating for women, anyway). The primary source materials scattered throughout the book (chiefly advertisements for tampax and douches of yore) did a great job at expressing the attitudes of the advertisement industry throughout modern times.

However, the writing style was wretched. An interesting topic was degraded through an excessive attempt to be humorous, and it constantly jerked me back to the recollection that I was readin...more
noelle
straight from my tumblr directly to you:

complaints about Flow: it insults my love for the Mütter Museum by insinuating that it is ghoulish and morbid, and that by extension so am I for loving it. fuck that, it’s an incredible collection of a bygone medical era and I can’t wait to go back and hide in it and never leave.

slightly more serious complaints about Flow: it is extremely hetero- and cis-sexist (“all women menstruate!” kind of tripe, as if a uterus defines womanhood) and a bit too light fo...more
Andrea
- A horror-book of misconceptions and maltreatment of women based on the natural processes experienced by their bodies
- An empowering dialogue starter. We all do it, so why the hush-hush?
- A well of trivia about wacky menstruation related devices. A hormone replacement therapy CD, rubber sanitary aprons, menopause pop-up books anyone?
- An impressive container of yet another proof that pharmaceutical industry is rigged and evil
- Just read it already
Barrie
I don't know. It was interesting, but their tone kinda bothered me. It was entertaining at first. By the end I kept thinking, didn't you already say that in a slightly different way 5 pages ago? Also, the whole cutesy element of the look irritated to me to the point of trying to hide the fact that I was reading it. The good stuff was their general information and the history of the actual period and how women perceive it was quite interesting. For instance, I always thought my mom slapped me whe...more
Terrie
Definitely interesting. The big pluses were the reproductions of various vintage advertisements and female "hygiene" brochures, even some from the late 1800s. I learned some things - some things I probably would have preferred not to think about (Lysol douches? Seriously?)

The minuses were the constant ranting about the misogyny of the feminine hygiene industry, etc. We got the point the first time you made it, no need to hit us over the head with it.

Also, when complaining about the lack of diver...more
Angela
That last chapter was a real doozy and it took everything I had to finish this book, especially when I reached the last seven pages, and not give this a one star rating. The authors spend most of this book criticizing the feminine care industry/advertising agencies/drug companies for their "evil" schemes to make money off of ignorant unsuspecting women and yet we don't receive a peep out of them in the last chapter. They're left simply "unconvinced" when it comes to using magnetized underwear (m...more
Jacqi
Gah! This should be a monumental piece of work. Instead, it's flawed with a severe lack of authority, questionable references to the internet (moreso than books) and extremely lacking in recent medical discoveries. Interesting cultural tidbits, but overall, nearing the line of more fiction than fact.
Julia
I like the idea of this book but the authors and their opinions rub me the wrong way. They very obviously have never had any problems and assume that's the case for everyone, that it's just men and society telling us to hate menstruation. Ladies, you couldn't be more wrong.
Jessica
Flow is an extremely interesting concept with a slightly flawed execution. Like others, I was fascinated by the idea of reading a book on such a topic (though I read it in college and was not brave enough to venture out in public with it, so I read it behind the safety of my bedroom door).

The book is packed with little tidbits of information that are quite fascinating. My problem, however, is with the way in which this information is delivered. The general layout of the book made reading a bit...more
Nicole
Young women should read this. Good feminist reading on a needlessly taboo subject. Good cultural feminist history primer as well.
Heather
Great and informative book. Review to come.
Tatiana Gomez
This was an interesting, if super-feministy, take on menstruation.

It is filled with facts about the history of menstruation in America, specifically in the 20th and 21st centuries, and is chock-full of quotes and large copies of contemporary ads. It is also beautifully designed and definitely coffee-table worthy for its clean, modern aesthetic and as a conversation starter.

I wish the authors had marketed it more as a book about advertisement and menstruation, as that was what they chose to focus...more
Rosa
This book was such a brilliant idea, and the authors did a great job. I read another bloggers review about Flow and they were just had such a strong reaction to it, not positive or negative really just strong, that I thought it was definitely worth reading. Flow tells the cultural history of the period and how woman's status and health care have changed over time. It's written in a friendly, personable style. While many reviewers feel like this means the book was geared at the younger set, I thi...more
Alicia
I wished the book was easier to read because I would have liked it a heck of a lot better. I was excited to read the book, especially when the clerk laughed a bit when she saw the cover and read the title.

I appreciated all of the historical value from magazines, advertisements, scientific stories, and patent information, but the drawn-out and sometimes out-of-touch writing left me hearing the Peanuts teacher "WAH WAH WAH" instead of engaging in a history lesson with a touch of humor and serious...more
Meg
3 stars because of the fabulously retro menstrual-product ads throughout the book - a truly awesome selection. Otherwise, I am sorry to say that this book was kind of, well, meh. The description of what the menstrual cycle IS and how it works didn't come until 3/4 way through the book. The tone was breezy and folksy like a blog post - except that it was a full-length book. And the breezy tone was kind of inappropriate in a few places where they were talking about fairly serious topics. Also, the...more
Penelope
This book is incredibly interesting. Even though I already knew a good portion of what the authors were discussing, there were plenty of things I didn't know. Overall, I thought the content of this book at least appeared well researched (there's a sizable bibliography which I'll be exploring) and was also nicely presented and well-designed.

The one thing that really irritated me about this book, however, was the tone. I wish I had kept a tally of how many times the words/phrases "hapless(ly)" (to...more
Anastasia
I found this book browsing through the "new titles" section of my local community library. I picked it up not so much to learn about the history of menstruation, but more with the idea of taking it to work and leaving it lying about to bug my uber religious co-worker. With all of my non-Oprah, non-Nora Roberts-esque books (military sci fi, liberal parenting treatises, Michael Pollan), she tends to read the back and then give me a "WTH are you *reading*?" look. But I digress. This book thinks it'...more
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ELISSA STEIN’S most current book is FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation. She lived her publishing dream-come-true night with a launch party at Rizzoli's on 57th Street that The New Yorker wrote about the next day. Previous projects include NYC adventures with kids, interactive thank you notes, and labor support for parents-to-be, along with visual histories of iconic pop culture—two of which...more
More about Elissa Stein...
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“Certainly, men have been availing themselves of the services of prostitutes from the moment those early hominids stood upright and certain women could say, “Hey there, sailor”; it’s not called the world’s oldest profession for nothing.” 0 likes
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