The Curse

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From the flyleaf of the The Curse: The Curse examines the culture of concealment that surrounds menstruation and the devastating impact such secrecy has on women’s physical and psychological health. Karen Houppert combines reporting on the potential safety problems of sanitary products—such as dioxin-laced tampons—with an analysis of the way ads, movies, books (from Stephen King’s Carrie to The Diary of Anne Frank), and women’s magazines foster a “menstrual etiquette” that leaves women more likely to tell their male colleagues about an affair than to carry an unopened tampon down the hall to the bathroom. Industry-generated instructional films define the parameters of acceptable behavior and teach young girls that bleeding is naughty, irrepressible evidence of sexuality. In the process, confident girls learn to be self-conscious teens.

And when these girls grow up, their periods evolve from embarrassing to “debilitating.” Drawing on scant evidence, today’s media have proclaimed PMS the scourge of the decade. America is apparently a nation of cranky women.

But the hush surrounding menstruation makes it “impolite” to challenge such assumptions. Houppert argues that industry ad campaigns have effectively stymied consumer debate, research, and safety monitoring of the sanitary protection industry. By telling girls and women how to think and talk about menstruation, the mostly male-dominated media have set a tone that shapes women’s experiences for them, defining what they are allowed to feel about their periods, their bodies, and their sexuality.

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Press and jacket blurbs:

Katha Pollitt in The Guardian’s /London Review of Books: “In taking on the subject, Houppert violates the central tenet of what she calls ‘menstrual etiquette’, the complex code of female behaviour intended to spare others, ie men, the awareness that women have periods, let alone, heaven forfend, that a particular woman is having her period right now – as, at any moment, about one in four females between the ages of roughly twelve and fifty is doing.”

Peggy Orenstein, author of Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap: “Karen Houppert’s fierce and witty examination of menstruation shows how the natural workings of women’s bodies–from our periods to our sexuality–are medicalized, sanitized, taken from us and sold back at a profit…The Curse will make you question the weird furtiveness that surrounds ‘that time of the month.’ And if, while reading it, you occasionally feel enraged, believe me, it won’t be because you have PMS.”

Kathleen O’Grady in the Toronto Globe and Mail: “Any woman reading Houppert’s book will bristle with anger at almost every page, but the intellectual rigor and vivacity that mark The Curse throughout come with a good dose of humor.”

Alex Kates Shulman, author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen: “This smart and lively report shows convincingly that the only real ruse of menstruation is the unwarranted secrecy and sexual moralism surrounding it, which have long served to keep women in their places.”

Sharon Thompson, author of Going All the Way: Teenage Girls’ Tales of Sex, Romance and Pregnancy: “In the witty, on-point tradition of Deirdre English and Barbara Ehrenreich, The Curse takes the brown paper wrapper of a bloody subject of the utmost importance to girls and women.”

Reviewed in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):  “The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation… of interest to anyone concerned with woman’s health, the relationship between industry and health, or the development of adolescent girls.”

 

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