The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation by Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth

Here are some of my notes:


-early man made womb a goddess to protect himself

-the stability of farming made him comfortable enough to isolate the menstruating woman thus in agrarian societies she was excluded because of the myth that she might bring disaster to crops

-questions: why are men dominant already? is it because of simple bodily differences and the woman is more complex and therefore more mysterious and threatening?


-Judaism and Christianity class women as unclean – this comes from natural feeling of disgust or shame and religions term it as uncleanliness

-Aristotle wrote that women’s menstrual blood was the passive agent in procreation – this idea was strongly accepted by Christianity

-David Turner’s 1973 play “The Prodigal Daughter” has an androgynous god. “For if God menstruates, then menstruation becomes godly. If menstruation is godly, then woman has at least a chance of becoming godly herself.” (42)

-John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God play and film – miracles through blood

Menstruation and Medical Myth 

-“When we move from myth to medicine, we see that even the scientific explanations for menstruation have been colored by the same fear and wonder of the most primitive peoples on earth.” (45)

-myth vs fact: age of menstruation: not necessarily decreasing because women previously may have lied to protect their modesty and dignity since menarche was linked to the loss of virginity. medical myth of menstrual synchronization was only proven by a female psychologist in the 70s.

The Menstruating Woman in the Popular Imagination 

-“The message from the manufacturer, of course, was aimed at getting us to use more and more napkins, to send for “training kits” so we’d be prepared, paraphernalia at least, for the big day (becoming a woman in the United States involves education for consumerhood as such as the Kiddie shows and their paper cereals do.)” (107-108)

-Disney and Kimberly-Clark collaborate on the short informative film from 1946, The Menstruation Story (109)


-“…an industry as determined to sell tampons to teenagers now as it was reluctant to do so before.” (110) question: what comes first? the culture or the industry? did the culture allow for the creation of the feminine hygiene industry even though it was so puritanical at first?

-“The menstrual consciousness expressed in literature and psychoanalysis is likely to be that of an individual sensibility, that is, the response of one artist or doctor to a woman’s monthly bleedings. But the material, of popular culture, the jokes, and advertisements, because they are anonymous or at least unattributed, are much better clues to mass psychology, to what “the people” think.” (115)

-Kotex sanitary napkins were invented at the end of WW1 and appeared on market in 1921 by Kimberly-Clark

Periodic Parade: Menstruation in Advertising 

-ads play on hope of not wanting to change ordinary life and fear that will secret will be found out through odor, leaks, stains, etc. thus sell deodorant powder (ad for these preceded those for sanitary napkins) and disposable bags which perpetuate idea that one must be embarrassed or ashamed. deodorant tampons shows how gullible public is since menstrual blood will stink once it touches air regardless. (141)

-“Menstruation in the 1930s was, as it is today, a subject for concealment and euphemism, yet one which “new” products must constantly be created.” (130)

-40s – wartime ads for women

-50s – called “girls”, taken less seriously and considered stupid

-“The woman of the 1940s bore burdens; in the 1950s, her burden was to be beautiful. A narrowing of woman’s sphere came in every respect in that decade…In menstrual product ads, the woman’s aspiration became individual and inner-directed (sleekness, beauty) rather than collective and outer-directed (the war effort). Even as late as 1970, the feminine mystique was not dead; a Kotex ad instructed women to “Be his. Be home. Be hard to forget. But be sure. Sure as Kotex napkins.” (132)

-60s – sporty, usually white, no older than 25, well-groomed smiling, and confident

-70s – word “natural” replaces words “confident and free”, more explicit

-Tassaway Menstrual Cup ads from the 70s (133) uses word “woman”, longer sentences, real anatomical words, calls upon women’s minds rather than looks. Advertised that it can’t be used more than once when it can, but women threw it out after the first use anyway which makes it “scarcely the equivalent of 25 to 30 tampons as advertised.” (140)


-“an unwrapped tampon was not shown until 1968.” (133)

-until 1972 ads on radio and tv were banned

-80s – informative, clinical, useful; get on with the “important things”, o.b. (134), still avoid mentioning Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

Rags to Riches: Menstrual Products Industry 

-“We are told that in come cultures women wear no protection and have few taboos; whereas in our own society, there are now approximately fifty different brand-name napkins and tampons, and “feminine products” is a half-billion industry.” (139)

-Johnson & Johnson made first pads in 1896 but went off market because it was taboo to advertise

-churches claimed products caused defloration, masturbation, and could be used as contraception

-majority of women still use only pads but use of tampons is increasing

-still experimenting with period extraction

-a reusable kitchen sponge is the best protection that is not on the market (141)

-retail sales of feminine hygiene products exceed 500 million anyway

-“no federal agency governs product specifications…nor are there industry-wide boards of standards.” (141)

-“The manufacturers of menstrual products for the most part serve their customers well. They supply a product for which a real need exists, and they look hard for ways to improve it. But in one serious way they fail. The basic sanitary napkin is no better than menstrual protection used thousands and thousands of years ago.” (143)

-“The napkin is still a breeding ground for bacteria (not from the menstrual flow itself, which is bacteriologically “clean”, but from the anal and urinary tracts, contributing to vaginal infections.” (143)

Menstruation Goes Public

-Czech film, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders


-Carol Erdman’s poem “Song for Sisters in the Moon Hut” (156)

-Carrie (1976) film pg 156, 181-182


-Bands: The Bloods, Lost Cherrees, My Dolls, Mod-ettes, Friggin’ Little Bits

Absent Literature: The Menarche 

-usually coming of age for girls is sexual awakening and/or loss of virginity, not menarche, the first menstruation. is this why condoms are free on college campuses rather than tampons and pads?

Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (180-181)

-“When female experience is more valued in life, it takes on more positive roles in art. The menarche, once an event surrounded with fear, terror, and ignorance, can today be seen as a treasured moment, the moment of becoming a woman.” (181)

-Poetry (189): Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Menses”, Nadine Mac Donald “On Menstruating in the Middle of a Lecture on the Fall of the Roman Empire”, Moonrise by Sylvia Plath, Gardener and Inventing My Life by Erica Jong, Ellen Bass “Tampons”, “Portrait of a Woman Artist” by Safiya Henderson, and Audre Lorde’s “NEED: A chorale of black women’s voices”


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