At the end of her lively, well-researched and wide-ranging inquiry into the 'hush' she believes surrounds the subject of menstruation in America, Karen Houppert thinks about her reluctance to discuss the subject of her book with the men she knows. 'I tell them I'm writing a book. If they pursue the matter, I tell them that I'm working on a book about menstruation - never "periods", because "menstruation" at least sounds slightly clinical and scientific and weighty.' My first response to this confession was surprise - Houppert's writing is not at all euphemistic, but straightforward, bold and funny - followed, I'm sorry to admit, by disapproval: what sort of Village Voice staff reporter is ashamed to say the word 'period' in front of men? But the truth is I know just how she felt. My first response on being offered The Curse for review was 'Oh no, is that what comes to editors' minds when they cast about for a book for me? Blood, cramps, mess?' That both feminist writer and feminist reviewer confess to an ill-defined unease about their topic - it's trivial, it's embarrassing, it marks a woman as too irreducibly her body, as just too female - suggests that Houppert is on to something when she says that menstruation is the last taboo.
LRB 6 September 2001 | PDF Download