Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Curse

The Curse

Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation

Karen Houppert

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


A provocative look at the way our culture deals with menstruation.

The Curse examines the culture of concealment that surrounds menstruation and the devastating impact such secrecy has on women's physical and psychological health. Karen Houppert combines reporting on the potential safety problems of sanitary products--such as dioxin-laced tampons--with an analysis of the way ads, movies, young-adult novels, and women's magazines foster a "menstrual etiquette" that leaves women more likely to tell their male colleagues about an affair than brazenly carry an unopened tampon down the hall to the bathroom. From the very beginning, industry-generated instructional films sketch out the parameters of acceptable behavior and teach young girls that bleeding is naughty, irrepressible evidence of sexuality. In the process, confident girls learn to be self-conscious teens.

And the secrecy has even broader implications. Houppert argues that industry ad campaigns have effectively stymied consumer debate, research, and safety monitoring of the sanitary-protection industry. By telling girls and women how to think and talk about menstruation, the mostly male-dominated media have set a tone that shapes women's experiences for them, defining what they are allowed to feel about their periods, their bodies, and their sexuality.

The Curse

The Industry
Our only interest is in protecting you. --Tampax ad, 1972
"Welcome this new day for womanhood,"...

Praise for The Curse

“Karen Houppert's fierce and witty examination of menstruation shows how the natural workings of women's bodies--from our periods to our sexuality--are medicalized, sanitized, taken from us and sold back at a profit.” —Peggy Orenstein, author of Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

“Provocative journalism . . . on a subject that impacts all girls and women, plus their teachers and physicians.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Any women reading Houppert's book will bristle with anger at almost every page, but the intellectual rigor and vivacity that mark The Curse throughout come with a good dose of humor.” —Kathleen O'Grady, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Houppert is a reporter with the investigative cojones to take on a seldom-questioned industry and a science journalist able to gracefully guide us through confusing medical studies; she's also an astute critic.” —Liza Featherstone, Newsday

“This funny, alarming, and well-researched book belongs on women's and girls' bookshelves between those two classics: Our Bodies, Ourselves and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.” —Meema Spadola, director of Breasts: A Documentary

Reviews from Goodreads

Karen Houppert

Karen Houppert is a freelance journalist who writes on a variety of feminist topics. She lives in New York City.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Latest on Facebook