Review: The Period Book

The Period Book

The Period Book: Everything You Don't Want to Ask (But Need to Know)

by Karen Gravelle, Jennifer Gravelle

1996. Walker and Company, NY.

References to The Period Book pop up in a surprising number of books about puberty, menstruation and gynecology. Its cartoon illustrations have been reproduced in two books that I've read recently, and I suspect they are hiding in a few more. Having read it mainly because it was one of only three books listed under "Subject: menstruation" in my public library's card catalog, I am about 90% in favor of this book. It has many major superpowers and only a few shortcomings, and these are technical and easy to supplement.

The most important success of The Period Book in my mind is that it is completely shame-free. It is anti-shame, even. Nowhere does it suggest that periods should be a secret, or that hiding bulky pads is critical to social acceptance. Marketing tactics and the concept of "freshness" are explicitly debunked. The Gravelles even offer that "some women actually feel more energetic and in a better mood when they are menstruating," to balance the requisite tips on dealing with possible cramps and mood swings.

Throughout, the book acknowledges fairly diverse period experiences, body shapes and developmental pacing, and diverse choices about what kind of woman a girl wants to be and when she wants to start taking an interest in "mature" pursuits or sexual relationships. I noted a few options that were conspicuously left out, but overall the authors were supportive of choices.

The book also supports girls' personal control of pretty much all period-related activities, giving permission to leave class to change a pad even if the teacher says no (you can get excused later by the school nurse), and declaring that if a gynecologist doesn't take a girl's questions seriously it is the gynecologist who is at fault. It gets the "empowerment" bonus point.

Similarly, the book promotes communication for all the right reasons and with all the right people, including dads and boys who are too often presented as living outside the circle of menstrual secrecy. There is a really cute chapter about parents' troubles talking to their daughters about periods. Even strangers, the book suggests, wouldn't blink at being asked for a spare tampon if a girl was in a pinch. Or for a pad.

However, disposable pads and tampons are the only products mentioned at all in The Period Book, which I consider a major disappointment and one of my ultimate pet peeves in period educational materials. It is easy enough to personally tell girls what isn't in the book, and indeed there are blank "notes" pages at the back for just such occasions. But, many parents and educators aren't familiar with alternatives to mainstream pads and tampons, and don't have any information to offer. I considered adding my own "Alternative Products" graffiti in the library book, but my inner librarian won out and I left it as it was. For now.

The technical descriptions of monthly hormone cycles left me a little disappointed too, but maybe they are just at an age-appropriate level of simplicity. Vagina geek that I am, I freely admit that I find it nearly impossible to distinguish "too much information" from a reasonable amount, and am probably expecting too much detailed accuracy in the descriptions of ovulation. However, I do take issue with claiming that the menstrual cycle happens every month during a woman's fertile years (what about pregnancy? or irregularity?), and the claim that "the menstrual cycle starts once a month when a single egg ripens and leaves one of the ovaries." I prefer to think of ovulation as the conceptual start too, but the official, arbitrary, medical definition sets it as the first day of bleeding and all communications involving period-counting (e.g., pregnancy testing, timing of doctor visits...) will be based on that start. Never mind the "single egg" and "once a month" simplifications, as I think those are probably nit-picking (but I can't tell!).

Overall, The Period Book is strong on attitude and probably appropriate technically, except for the glaring, huge, important lack of product choices. I got all my period education at school and luckily received pretty good information. This book would only have been an improvement over my education if it had mentioned more kinds of menstrual gear, even as a single sentence acknowledging their existence. But, for anyone who wants to supplement school health class or get started with period info at an earlier age, this book is a solid starting point.

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