Please excuse me while I fetch my eyeballs. I was rolling them all the way to my shoulders blades and they unexpectedly dropped off. It happened when I read this post about the new book Flow: A Cultural History of Menstruation.
In many ways, Flow—published by St. Martin’s Griffin—is a breakthrough. Nearly all titles on menstruation are geared toward preteen girls or are dry and academic, published by small presses. Flow, though, targets a mainstream, women’s-magazine reading audience. It is a tome on all things period, from vintage advertisements for feminine hygiene products to tips on the latest eco-friendly sanitary products, such as reusable (yes, reusable) pads.
The authors hope Flow will reverse any revulsion we feel when (get ready) “the tomato boat has come in” or “the Red Sox have a home game”; when a woman is “saddling up old rusty” or “riding the big red Cadillac down the Avenue of Womanhood.” Their goal is to help women understand menstruation in order to make more educated choices about how to handle it. “Women have different reactions to their periods, different symptoms,” Kim told The Daily Beast. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all bodily function. More meaningful discussions would allow women to feel like they’re owning their decisions.”
Today the most basic choice is whether or not to menstruate at all. Since Barr Pharmaceuticals (now owned by Teva) introduced Seasonale, the first period-suppressing birth control pill, in 2003, a steadily increasing number of suppressants has hit the market. The drugs allow women to menstruate just four or fewer times a year. And while some women take a suppressant pill to curb debilitating symptoms, for others, it’s a lifestyle drug. (Some doctors stress that the long-term side effects of continually taking hormones are still unknown, and could pose risks.)
Where to start? Oh, you’re right. I should start with the easy obvious one. The tomato boat has come in? The tomato boat?
Maybe I don’t go out enough. Call me unsophisticated and vulgar, but I call my this “time of the month” my period, use a whole range of modern products I find convenient (I am totally areligious about that; to each her own, I say – if reusable pads do the job for you, then that is that), apologize to hubby for the unnecessary but hormone-driven temper tantrums (he’s used to it), and move right along.
It’s just not that big a deal. I don’t need to “own my decisions” about how I deal with it. I just need to deal with it without making an undue fuss. Would I like to live without it? On the days when it bothers me, you bet. It can sure be inconvenient. But so what? Nobody said life was going to be easy and inconvenience-free. And honestly, you really think you can play with mother nature like that and suppress your period and not suffer any kind of effect on your overall health from it?
The book’s authors explain that:
The “ick” factor that turned most publishers off, they say, is part of the reason that women are shockingly uninformed when it comes to their periods. Research shows few women can explain the physiological processes of ovulation and menstruation—and between 5 and 10 percent of girls have no idea what’s happening when they experience their first “time of the month.”
Hey, if you’re going to call it the “tomato boat”, you’re not really ideally positioned to lecture us on revulsion and ignorance. There will always be girls who will be clueless when they experience their first period. I was one of them; sure, I knew about it (and the whole this-is-how-babies-are-made business), but I didn’t recognize it when it came (in my defence, it wasn’t like what they’d said). I was laughed at by people who ought to have known better, but it didn’t exactly traumatize me.
Maybe some people will find that book helpful. But I’ll pass. Besides, I still have to retrieve my eyeballs.
Tanya adds: Who needs a whole book about it? Everything I needed to know, I learned from this episode of The Cosby Show (3:30 in):