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Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  1,317 Ratings  ·  223 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 you ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published November 10th 2009 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published November 5th 2009)
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Jun 20, 2010 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.


Several things about the book rubbed me the

Femicin ad, 1968

Thank fuck for three waves of feminism.

Deborah Markus
I can't blame this book for not giving me the information I was hoping for. Nobody seems to know for sure how women in Regency England dealt with the flow.

But Flow was an engaging enough book to hold me until the end, anyway. The period (in every sense) product ads alone are worth the price of the book, though I'm not sure I wanted to know that until fairly recently, women were encouraged to use bleach-based products to stay "fresh." (Lysol douching, kids. It happened. I'm scared.)
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
Dec 26, 2009 Susanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 18, 2014 Kerrie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Ana Rînceanu
This book is mainly about how american women's view of menstruation has been affected by misogynistic rhetoric and an industry build up on their insecurity and myths about menstruation. Interesting read and I wish there were more about how the rest of the world views our monthlies.
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
якщо ви вже колись детально цікавилися тим, як працюють дівчатка, навряд чи ця книжка скаже вам багато нового – і, судячи з того, що на першій сторінці відгуків нема жодного від хлопчиків, зате є чимало нарікань на брак інформації про окремі аспекти життя з місячними (чи сучасні, чи історичні), так воно зазвичай і стається. утім, знання має стільки рівнів: наприклад, те, що ви добре бачили, але ніколи не узагальнювали (усюдисущий символізм чистої води в рекламі прокладок і тампонів); те, про що ...more
Nov 19, 2010 Jacqi rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
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.
Jul 14, 2012 Traci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 06, 2010 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminist
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
Dec 06, 2015 Mary rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, health
I’ve been interested in how women who got out and about throughout history have dealt with menstruation. I was especially intrigued by 2 of my favs: Catherine the Great (my review of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman and her 6-month Crimean journey and Christine Granville (my review of The Spy Who Loved and her trip across the Tatras into Poland during WWII. Like Ginger had to do everything Fred did but ba ...more
Dec 20, 2009 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2009
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
I did a lot of skimming in this book. It wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be. A lot of the book was spent complaining about how the medical field, from ancient Greece to modern America, had/have no idea what was going on with the menstruation cycle and we should be outraged at how inept they were/are. I was cool with that aspect the first hundred pages, but after that I just got bored with being outraged.

I did enjoy the historical aspects of the book on how women have dealt with having th
Feb 15, 2015 Rossy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of fun, kind of interesting.
Something was missing, I can't really figure out what!
The vintage ads were, without a doubt, the best part of the book, and the facts about menstruation in other cultures and countries were interesting. I was scared to learn how it was treated in other centuries, poor women!
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.
Feb 03, 2010 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminism
Young women should read this. Good feminist reading on a needlessly taboo subject. Good cultural feminist history primer as well.
Apr 13, 2015 Virginia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is an irreverent look at menstruation and the history of "femcare". The authors apparently wrote this as a reaction to continuous hormonal birth control use to eliminate one's amazingly wonderful period. I'm someone who avoids hormonal birth control and often uses cloth pads and a menstrual cup, so you'd think they would be preaching to the choir. Still, I had issues with this book. It's too shallow and filled with editorial conjectures and questionable anecdotes. For example, the chap ...more
Jan 15, 2012 Carolyn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Ashley V
Jan 15, 2014 Ashley V rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 19, 2011 noelle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wmst-fem, own
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
Rena Sherwood
Jun 08, 2015 Rena Sherwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Heavily illustrated, often funny and occasionally sobering look at how women and advertisers have handled Red Dollar Days. Makes me glad I don't have to work an 18 hour shift in a factory standing in a pile of straw to absorb my blood and clots. And I'm not glad about most anything having to do with my period, because I sometimes have to deal with a burst ovarian cyst.


I'm glad this was written by women but I do wonder what a male writer would have made of the same material. Probably something t
Knowledge, after all, is powerful stuff. Let it work its magic by filtering into the conversations we have, informing the decisions we make, influencing the products we buy, and, last, shaping the lessons we pass on to our friends, colleagues, sisters, daughters, and granddaughters.
There are millions of women out there- mainstream women, women like you, women like us- who get along with the uterus just fine, along with all its bleeding, symptoms both good and bad, hormones, pregnancy fears and d
Jan 22, 2010 Melody rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 19, 2010 Terrie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 14, 2010 Barrie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
- 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
Jan 02, 2014 Julia marked it as dropped
Shelves: for-the-eyes, 2014
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.
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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
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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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