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The Modern Period

, 256 pages

7 halftones

June 2010
List price:$65.00
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The Modern Period

Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America

Winner, 2010 Emily Toth Award for Best Book in Women’s Studies, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

The Modern Period examines how and why Americans adopted radically new methods of managing and thinking about menstruation during the twentieth century.

In the early twentieth century women typically used homemade cloth "diapers" to absorb menstrual blood, avoided chills during their periods to protect their health, and counted themselves lucky if they knew something about menstruation before menarche. New expectations at school, at play, and in the workplace, however, made these menstrual traditions problematic, and middle-class women quickly sought new information and products that would make their monthly periods less disruptive to everyday life.

Lara Freidenfelds traces this cultural shift, showing how Americans reframed their thinking about menstruation. She explains how women and men collaborated with sex educators, menstrual product manufacturers, advertisers, physical education teachers, and doctors to create a modern understanding of menstruation. Excerpts from seventy-five interviews—accounts by turns funny and moving—help readers to identify with the experiences of the ordinary people who engineered these changes.

The Modern Period ties historical changes in menstrual practices to a much broader argument about American popular modernity in the twentieth century. Freidenfelds explores what it meant to be modern and middle class and how those ideals were reflected in the menstrual practices and beliefs of the time.

This accessible study sheds new light on the history of popular modernity, the rise of the middle class, and the relationship of these phenomena to how Americans have cared for and managed their bodies.

Lara Freidenfelds is a visiting lecturer in Women's Studies at Wellesley College.

"Freidenfelds argues that innovations in menstrual management would not have been possible without the expansion of middle-class values and lifestyle expectations... Recommended especially for readers in gender studies."

"None who read this will fail to appreciate the sheer power of suggestion that marketing creates... Today's 'modern' women are more open about getting their periods, but for the less comfortable among us, the bold-faced title, The Modern Period, suggests a history book and thus lends itself to being read comfortably in public places with nary an old-fashioned blush."

"This is the best cultural history of menstruation of twentieth-century America."

"An informative and intellectually dense treatise... incorporating resources from feminist theory, history of science, anthropology, and medicine."

" The Modern Period is a good overview that combines the major themes raised by other secondary sources with original archival and interview research. It is well written and accessible to those new to the subject. It would be suitable for both undergraduate and graduate courses in medical history and gender studies."

" The Modern Period provides a rich picture of the changing public aspects of menstruation, by mining traditional historical sources such as the medical advice literature and advertisements for Kotex and Tampax. Freidenfelds goes further, however, and lets us in on the private aspects, on the discussions between mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, and husbands and wives... Freidenfelds' deft use of these stories augments her solid social history with the seductive lure of eavesdropping."

"This book adds rich, varied, and interesting dimensions to what we knew about this important subject, and it should become required reading for anyone interested in the health of twentieth-century women."

"A thorough and engaging history of menstruation... Her title, The Modern Period, is more than a succinct description; it cleverly references her discussion throughout of how advancing Progressive values shaped beliefs and practices surrounding menstruation. The diversity of age and ethnicity among Freidenfelds' interview participants is particularly striking and significant."

"The Modern Period is a remarkable work... The reader learns a lot about the complex cultural history of menstrual management in the United States, which makes the book a worthy contribution to American historical and cultural studies alike."

"Freidenfelds makes several worthy contributions to the scholarly literature. The most important of these is the rich and detailed evidence she provides about the ways in which ordinary men and women from several social groups experienced and viewed menstruation. She argues convincingly that experts and ordinary people together gave rise to the menstrual practices and beliefs that emerged and dominated in the twentieth century."

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