Period: The real story of menstruation
Princeton University Press, US$27.95 hb, 259 pp
As a gynaecologist and feminist, I figured that this book would have little new to teach me. By page four, I realised I was wrong. Kate Clancy, an anthropologist by training and a serious researcher into the science underlying menstruation, takes her readers on an adventurous romp through every physiological, political, and social aspect of this monthly bloodletting and tissue-shedding that virtually all women (and other people with uteruses) experience hundreds of times during their reproductive years – myth-busting as she goes.
In medical school in the 1960s, I learned about the menstrual cycle, and subsequently taught that same information – somewhat updated – to later generations. ‘Normal’ cycles lasted twenty-eight days, with five of those days devoted to the shedding of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, unless conception had occurred, in which case the endometrium took a different course, remaining in the uterus and contributing to nurturing the developing embryo. I learned the special terms for cycles that fell outside this twenty-eight-day rhythm – oligomenorrhoea (infrequent bleeding), polymenorrhoea (too frequent), menorrhagia (heavy bleeding), and so on. You get the picture. Normal and abnormal.