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Review: Flow, Elissa Stein and Susan Kim

Periods are touchy subjects for both men and women. But, given that more than half the population either gets them, will get them, or has had them in the past, this is a fairly silly state of affairs, and Elissa Stein and Susan Kim aren’t afraid to call it just that. This is a history of menstruation and everything to do with it, from uncomfortable symptoms to advertising to the pill to just what women did before pads or tampons ever existed.

I first came across this book when Rebecca at the Book Lady’s Blog raved about it nearly a year ago. After it failed to show up in local bookstores or in my library, I finally got a copy of my own for Christmas. I was surprised to find that it’s textbook-sized and bound, but on opening it, it’s fairly obvious why because the inside has lots of old ads and paraphernalia devoted to periods. These were oddly delightful as well as worrying; the authors poke at the problems with them and the misconceptions they delivered, especially the earlier ones, but I had fun imagining my grandma and my mom looking at them when they were brand new.

As for the actual content of the book, I had a sort of mixed reaction to it, simply because I can’t really understand empowerment around periods. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll certainly never love my own period, and encouragement to do so never sits quite right with me. The authors take this fully into account as they do discuss the many reasons women struggle with this aspect of their lives, and though they blame a lot of the stigma on advertising, there is not really much question that periods can be painful and unpleasant.

One of the most valuable chapters for me was the amount they question PMS and other familiar medicalizations of classic “female” symptoms. Yes, it’s a serious problem for some women, but it’s honestly frustrating when someone else (usually a man) dismisses a genuine complaint by asking if a woman is about to have her period. When surveyed, a large percentage of people agreed that men had cyclical mood swings too – so a lot of what is simply our nature as human beings can be happily ignored by people who think we’re just complaining because we’re about to start bleeding. This is a worthwhile thing to mention; it frustrates me and no doubt many women to be dismissed because of bodily functions, and is something straight out of the nineteenth century that annoyingly persists.

My favorite sections were also those that dealt with history, as you might expect. I was appalled to learn what women did before pads and tampons, which is why I mentioned it in the summary, and am now actively relieved that I live in a time when they are readily available. But the way the whole advertising business built up around feminine products and feminine hygiene is quite a fascinating look into what happens when you have a product half of the population must buy at one time or another, and how you can use that condition to make them buy even more of your brand and not another. All very interesting, if not a little off-putting. I was also very surprised to learn that a huge percentage of women stick to the same brand throughout their lives, which explains why the industry works so hard at advertising. And this is true, so I don’t know why I was surprised – no matter where the sale is, at the risk of TMI, I go for the same brand, which always perplexes my husband who thinks I should just get the cheapest kind.

Flow is a great, chatty book that encourages women to open up about their periods, providing essential knowledge for today as well as a look back at where we’ve been. Highly recommended – for both genders, although I don’t think too many men will be brave enough to whip this one out in public!

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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6 comments to Review: Flow, Elissa Stein and Susan Kim

  • At the risk of TMI, I am actually not all the brand loyal when it comes to these products. But I don’t necessarily go for what’s cheapest either. I wonder what does influence me? The packaging? Hmmm….
    Lenore´s last post …Book Review- The Girl Who Was On Fire ed by Leah Wilson

  • I don’t know why, but this book never really interested me. I have thought about what women did before modern products, and I’m with you — yeah me for being born in the 20th century!
    Beth F´s last post …Dont-Miss Books to Read in March 2011

  • I admit to being curious about this book, but am not sure I would ever read it. My mother was of the type that didn’t discuss these sorts of issues, and despite the fact that I have been much more open with my own daughter, I think that based on the way I was raised, periods are not something in which I want to put a whole lot of thought into. I do think that I am very thankful to have been born in a time where good and useful products are available readily though! Thanks for your very interesting review!
    zibilee´s last post …Promise Me by Richard Paul Evans — 352 pgs

  • I actually rather liked this book. It does contain a lot of info and is written in a very readable style. I am glad I read it… Even if I didn’t entirely agree with all the empowerment they were encouraging.
    Kailana´s last post …Week in Review 8

  • Fascinating review, Meghan! This book sounds interesting, although I’m not sure I’d want to buy it. I am also very brand loyal when it comes to these products, and have wondered why I insist on a certain brand. I think it’s more of a devil-you-know thing.

    Once I took an anthropology class where I had to read a monograph about an aboriginal rainforest tribe, and one of the chapters was all about women and how they dealt with periods, marriage, etc. Since they didn’t have pads or anything, they spent their entire period squatting in the dirt! Sounded very uncomfortable.

  • Why am I always interested in books that will give me weird looks on public transport? This book looks fascinating!
    Amused´s last post …Book Review and Give Away- The Bird House