Review: Flowering Woman

Flowering Woman

Flowering Woman: Moontime for Kory

by Mary Dillon, Shinan Barclay, Elizabeth Manley (illus.)

1988. Sunlight Productions, Sedona, AZ.

Flowering Woman: Moontime for Kory is the illustrated story of Kory's first period, set in an imaginary “ancient culture” that blends Hindu words, garden fairies, North American aboriginal imagery, talking dolphin friends and an apparent matriarchy. This setting has very little to do with real history, being mainly a wishful, goddess- feminist utopia, but it serves well enough both as a vehicle for demonstrating positive possibilities for female puberty and as an entertaining fantasy that would appeal to some girls. I know that when I was 9 to 12 years old, I read a significant stack of books featuring talking dolphins, mystical wisdom and ordinary girls who turn out to be special.

The book follows Kory from a year or so before her period to a few months after it, but focuses on the day of her menarche and the gifts and advice she receives from four wise Grand Mothers. They teach her that her menstrual “moontime” is a gift and a time for reflection, and that her menstrual blood is clean and pure and a good fertilizer for gardens. These are all common ideas in positive menarche literature.

Like many menarche and puberty books, Flowering Woman addresses sex and pregnancy, but unlike many puberty books, Flowering Woman refrains from moral sermons. One of the Grand Mothers tells Kory that sexual feelings are pleasant and good, and simply explains that “inviting a man into her womanplace” also invites a child, which is a big responsibility and which her body isn't developed enough to handle. This is very basic, not too practical, and ignores infection risks, but is a reasonable foundation for ideas about sex.

The Grand Mothers also make the subtle point that menarche signals puberty, not full-blown adulthood, which I found worthwhile. The emphasis is on starting to offer skills to the community and starting to grow into a woman, rather than the strange, “you are a woman!” declarations contained in some books about puberty. This somewhat neglects the existence of pre-menarcheal girls as people, community members, and especially as sexual beings, which bothers me (I was an over-bright latebloomer, and I had angst about being taken seriously). But, the authors have obviously made an explicit choice to portray menarche as a great time to initiate a girl into her community, so I can't really consider that a shortcoming or a mistake.

Overall, Kory's menarche adventure is a sweet fantasy that shows some possibilities for positive attitudes about puberty and the value of female initiation celebrations, without being too heavy handed. It isn't remotely realistic about the practical details of menstruation or sex, and the aboriginal culture presented in the book is thoroughly idealized by 1980s feminists. Flowering Woman isn't the only information a girl needs about menarche, but it could help her feel special instead of embarrassed.

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For age-appropriate facts about the biology and modern practicalities of menarche, try The Period Book.

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