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Has anyone written a book about the history of menstruation?

(121 Posts)
BertrandRussell Fri 22-Sep-17 17:22:09

Another thread got me thinking. Periods are practically never mentioned in literature at all. I love girls' school stories and, apart from a passing mention by Antonia Forrest. there's nothing. Washing sanitary towels must have been a huge job - who washed them in Downton Abbey for example? And what have women used over time? I am old enough to be just pre easily available/affordable disposable pads and my mother made me reusable ones for the first couple of years. So is there any research? Or is there a PhD to be written?

Sodaface Fri 22-Sep-17 17:24:59

There's lots of nenstruation alluded to in the late 1800,s earky 1900s through symbolism. However it's not out-there in you face kinda way.

Also the big debate about women's brains being smaller & being irratybecause of their periods. Not so much on the actual sanitary wear though.

Sodaface Fri 22-Sep-17 17:25:19


SnugglySnerd Fri 22-Sep-17 17:25:49

I'm just reading Ben Elton's WW1 book and there's a reference to a nurse at the front drying stained rags in her room. I was really surprised as like you say it's rarely mentioned in literature. I was even more surprised it was mentioned in a book written by a man!
I think it's an interesting part of women's social history actually. Are you thinking about writing it?

Ttbb Fri 22-Sep-17 17:26:51

There is loads of stuff all over the internet. Undoubtably there have been various academics works about it in the past. Just check google scholar.

Sodaface Fri 22-Sep-17 17:27:21

There is good reason to write about women, especially a PHD, that would be great. I did my dissertation on this/women's symbolism hence having a little knowledge about it. If you've the chance to write.... do it!

ChevalierTialys Fri 22-Sep-17 17:28:13

I wonder how big of a market there is for a book like that. I would be interested to know the history of it - I understand women basically re-used rags until the sanitary towel became affordable for the working class.

"Are you there God, it's me, Margaret" by Judy Blume is almost exclusively about periods, although not in the way you probably want grin

Plexie Fri 22-Sep-17 17:29:10

I remember reading that there was a 'museum' of menstruation in the USA. Don't know if it's still going. Created by a man, if I remember correctly.

BertrandRussell Fri 22-Sep-17 17:30:53

No, I won't write it. I wish someone else would though I want to read it. Bill Bryson wrote that massive book called "At Home" with lots about loos and plumbing and washing but not a word about periods!

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 22-Sep-17 17:31:30

Yes, there are lots of histories of menstruation. Also some lit/cultural studies. Peggy McCracken's 'The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero' is interesting, as are sections of Bettina Bildhauer's 'Medieval Blood'.

McCracken makes the point that, sometimes, menstruation is a really telling/important absence in literature because of the way it's not mentioned.

BertrandRussell Fri 22-Sep-17 17:31:45

I'd forgotten " Are you there, God?" !

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Fri 22-Sep-17 17:33:20

Sally Shuttleworth - in Charlotte Bronte and Victorian Psychology and in an edited collection called Body/Politic - has written a bit about it. Not an actual cultural history of menstruation, but a fair bit of discussion.

BertrandRussell Fri 22-Sep-17 17:33:27

"I understand women basically re-used rags until the sanitary towel became affordable for the working class."

Disposable sanitary towels only became easily available in the 1960s, I think.

SnugglySnerd Fri 22-Sep-17 17:34:23

I think I learnt about periods from "Are you there, God"!

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 22-Sep-17 17:36:10

Stella Tillyard's 'Aristocrats' suggests women mentioned it quite a bit amongst themselves in the eighteenth century - they refer to periods as 'being the French lady' and there are lots of letters about whether a sister who ended up having (IIRC) 22 children has had her 'French lady' or whether she is, in fact, pregnant again.

But that reminds me that there must have been patches of history when many women didn't have as many periods as we'd expect to in their lifetimes, because they spent so much more time pregnant or breastfeeding.

BeyondNoone Fri 22-Sep-17 17:38:34

Or malnourished sad

toffee1000 Fri 22-Sep-17 17:44:36

It would've been taboo to mention periods. Any kind of bodily function was mentioned coyly eg pregnancy was referred to as "being in the family way" etc. Even in modern books it's being "on the blob" or whatever...

HumphreyCobblers Fri 22-Sep-17 17:48:41

I remember reading an article once about a prehistoric fossilised stick that had twenty eight marks on it, with crossings. The commentator said how exciting that a lunar record was being kept by these ancient people, the thought that it might be a woman keeping a record of her cycle did not seem to have crossed anyone's mind.

Funnily enough, I read 'Are you there God' only the other day. All about periods and religion. I had completely forgotten about the religious aspect.

cakesonatrain Fri 22-Sep-17 17:49:37

Haruki Murakami mentions his female characters' periods sometimes. It struck me as odd because no-one else ever does (Ms Blume aside).

OldEnglishSheepDog Fri 22-Sep-17 17:54:55

Google Rose George. She is in the process of writing a book about menstruation. She is fabulous. She previously wrote a book about shit.

TinklyLittleLaugh Fri 22-Sep-17 18:02:54

The Red Tent mentions periods. It's basically where all the women go to chill out when they're having a period isn't it? I'd love to scoot off to a tent with my daughters for a few days every month and leave the men in our house to get on with it.

JigglyTuff Fri 22-Sep-17 18:02:57

I would love a history of menstruation. If women ruled the world, we'd all be able to spend 4 days a month watching box sets with a hot water bottle on our bellies, eating fudge

TimeIhadaNameChange Fri 22-Sep-17 18:05:43

I read a book about periods as a teen and there was a chapter about this topic in it. I think it was "Have You Started Yet?

There was another fiction book I read about the same time which I tried to track down on here, to no avail, which stayed in my mind as the protagonist mentioned her period. It was the only time I'd come across such a reference in a story, and it was nice how matter of fact it was (but it didn't go into details). It was a one-off novel about a teen, who had a mystery to solve (I think). Only her father was on the scene (so I think she was embarrassed she'd come on). Absolutely no idea what it was, though. Definitely not Nancy Drew, as someone suggested.

BertrandRussell Fri 22-Sep-17 18:07:10

So who washed sanitary towels in Downton Abbey?

BertrandRussell Fri 22-Sep-17 18:09:05

"It would've been taboo to mention periods. Any kind of bodily function was mentioned coyly eg pregnancy was referred to as "being in the family way" etc."

Would it? When? And do you think it would have been the same amongst women?

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