Review: Red Flower

Red Flower

Red Flower: Rethinking Menstruation

by Dena Taylor

1988. The Crossing Press, Freedom, California.


Red Flower reads like an undergraduate project for a gender studies class. The author presents a vague thesis that menstruation needs to be considered more positively, proceeds to make a variety of generalizations about the prevalence of cultural and biological phenomena, and mixes in some quotations from her friends (classmates?) and other literature (course material?) with little context or relevant discussion.

Presumably the random menstrual facts and cultural discussions are presented to show that menstruation gets a bad rap and that women suffer from these negative attitudes, and to suggest useful ways to improve this, but I had trouble following any conceptual thread through the book. I found it to be a frustrating collection of amateurish political analysis, resorting to cherry-picked biological trivia and statistical misinterpretation to portray the experience of menstruation. It is a pet peeve of mine to be told that I feel the most intense sexual arousal during menstruation, or that I am likely dream about talking animals and broken eggshells during my period. This kind of experience is so variable as to be mostly irrelevant, especially without any surrounding discussion by the author.

Most frustrating of all was how little “rethinking” is done in Red Flower: Rethinking Menstruation. Its bibliography lists several comprehensive books about feminist women's health and menstrual attitudes, and I had trouble finding any significant departures from the ideas in those books. This lack of newness is, I think, the core reason I found Red Flower disappointing.

The positive reviews that I've seen of this book seem to centre around the novelty of celebrating menstruation at all, which makes me suspect that some people welcome support and validation even from a mediocre book. The fact that this book recycles an idea I support— the importance of positive attitudes about menstruation— doesn't make up for its shortcomings, for me. The more books I review, the more I notice that I'm generally a really harsh critic. However, I do like to celebrate books that achieve my standards of excellence. See the side bars for suggestions of some better books.

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For a solid celebration of women and menstruation, try Woman.

For a more reasoned and researched overview of menstrual taboos and the problems they perpetuate, try The Curse.

For a straight-up, idealized celebration of menstruation, for kids, try Flowering Woman.

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