Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation has done it: it reveals the history, hysteria, hype, and honest truths about one of the most basic bodily processes in a way that is both hilarious and educational, irreverent and respectful. Authors Elissa Stein and Susan Kim have brought together scientific data, anecdotes, customs, advertisements, and euphanisms surrounding menstruation. One of my favorite euphanisms for “menstruation” comes from the Netherlands: detomatensoep is overgekookt, or “the tomato soup is overcooked.”
This is a book that is perfect for both your pubescent daughter and her father (just don’t let either of them know the other is reading it), your mother and your lover. No matter how many years you have menstruated or if you can gleefully say those days are over for you, this book will tell you things about menstruation you never knew.
The authors say that “What freaks us out is that beneath all the bonhomie lurks the very real and unspoken message that as much as we’re encouraged to make light about menstruation, we’re somehow not supposed to be talking about it seriously.” What Stein and Kim have managed to do is to speak about menstruation lightly and seriously simultaneously, presenting topics such as cramps, menopause, tampons, ritual cleansing baths, sex during menstruation, hysterectomies, and the history of underwear, among many others, with humor, insight, scholarship, and understanding.
Flow consists of 14 delightful and engaging chapters, ranging from “Language” to “Hysteria,” “Advertising,” “When Good Periods Go Bad,” and “Hey, Is It Getting Hot In Here?” The authors have chosen some wonderful vintage advertisements about menstruation and related products to grace the pages, ads over which today’s young teens will roll their eyes. But let them roll. Booklist notes that “there is probably no better book for moms who want their daughters to respect themselves in every aspect.”
This book could not have been written by a man, but it is for men as well as women. This year, men across America should wake up on Christmas day to find Flow poking out of their stocking. It’s okay if they read it when no one is around—your daughter will likely do the same thing. But read it they will, and so should you, because it’s well written, funny, informative, and still, well, makes you feel like you’re reading something you shouldn’t. But you should. Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, is published by St. Martin’s Griffin.