0912_flow

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation | by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim | St. Martin's Griffin | 270 pages | $27.99

Aunt Flo. The Curse. My Friend. The gang's all here in Flow, a feisty feminist coffee table book about all things menstrual. Stein and Kim set an ambitious agenda. On one hand, Flow is a polemic about how ancient mythology, patriarchal religion, sexist society, and the powerful pharmaceutical and femcare industries have shaped the prevailing attitude about menstruation— generations of American women have come to regard it as a taboo-riddled drag, a medical condition, and "a source of deep shame." On the other hand, Flow is a kicky history of feminine hygiene product development and advertising, showcasing vintage ads that are as retro-fab as they are mind-blowing. Did you know that Lysol was originally marketed as a douche? Or that actress Courteney Cox was the first person to say "period" in a TV commercial (for Tampax)— in 1985? Flow is too thinly sourced to stand as an academic treatise. But it has the right in-your-face humorous tone, and contains enough myth-busting info (no, you can't lose your virginity to a tampon), to make it the perfect gift for the teenaged feminist in your life. And the authors get extra points for uncovering some cracking new euphemisms for that time of the month. Hint: "The Red Sox have a home game" does not mean that you should head down to Fenway.

— Joyce Millman

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