Showing 1 - 10 of 34 annotations tagged with the keyword "Menstruation"

The Bride Price: A Novel

Emecheta, Buchi

Last Updated: Apr-04-2017
Annotated by:
Saleh, Mona

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is a novel set in Lagos, Nigeria among a polygamous peoples and follows the formative years of protagonist Ibo Aku-nna as she experiences the death of her father, the horror of starting menstruation, and falling in love with her teacher, Chike, of whom the elders in her family do not approve because he comes from a family that was previously enslaved. 

Throughout the novel, the reader is introduced to several traditions, which speak to how women are valued less than men in this setting. For instance, when Aku-nna’s father dies, her mother must go through a special procedure for mourning, described here: 

“Ma Blackie was to remain alone in the special hut; not until the months of mourning were over could she visit people in their homes. She must never have a bath. No pair of scissors nor comb must touch her hair. She must wear continually the same old smoked rags” (p. 71). 

Another tradition is  the concept of the bride price, which is the sum of money paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family in exchange for her hand in marriage. The more valuable a daughter is (whether in appearance or family status), the higher the bride price. Further, if a girl’s bride price is not paid, it was the belief that the bride would die during childbirth.

When Aku-nna is sixteen, she finishes her schooling and learns that she has passed an examination that qualifies her to be a schoolteacher. At the same time, a youth with a limp in her village, named Okoboshi, sets his sights on her to become his wife. His family then kidnaps  Aku-nna. When a bride is kidnapped, her bride price does not apply, and it does not have to be paid. Also, if a man cuts away a lock from a girl's hair, she becomes his wife and he, again, is not responsible for paying the bride price:

“Some youth who had no money to pay for a bride might sneak out of the bush to cut a curl from a girl’s head so that she would belong to him for life and never been able to return to her parents: because he had given her the everlasting haircut, he would be able to treat her as he liked, and no other man would ever touch her. It was to safeguard themselves against this that many girls cropped their hair very close; those who wanted long hair wore a headscarf most of the time” (p. 103). 

When Okoboshi tries to have sex with Aku-nna, she refuses and says that it is because she has already lost her virginity to Chike, even though she really had not.  In disgust, Okoboshi stops trying to have sex with Aku-nna and beats her savagely, vowing to keep her as his wife in name only but then marry other women, whom Aku-nna would have to serve. Through initiative and luck, Aku-nna escapes from Okoboshi’s house and elopes with Chike. Despite how much money Chike’s family tries to pay Aku-nna’s family as her bride price, they will not accept it.  

Meanwhile, Aku-nna finds work as a school teacher and Chike is also successful at his work. They are very happy together for a time, and Aku-nna becomes pregnant. She struggles very much with her pregnancy and becomes quite weak as a result. One night, Aku-nna becomes sick and is admitted to the hospital, where the doctor informs her and Chike that she must undergo a Cesarean section and have her baby prematurely.  A baby girl is born healthy, but Aku-nna perishes due to extreme anemia, according to her doctor. Thus, the novel ends in confirmation of the superstition that if a girl’s bride price is not paid, she will die in childbirth. 

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On Bittersweet Place

Wineberg, Ronna

Last Updated: Nov-18-2014
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This story centers on Lena, an immigrant teen from Ukraine, whose entire family has been traumatized and uprooted by family deaths during a violent pogrom.  Relocated to Chicago, in a tiny apartment on Bittersweet Place, the family struggles to survive in the years prior to World War I. Wineberg’s tale of disrupted life and resettlement is weighted by formidable issues that stretch beyond the ordinary range of family experiences. 

Lena, the intelligent, highly observant and resilient adolescent, narrates an unvarnished tale of survival for the extended family clustered together in this strange new world, but especially for herself.  While the family’s economic and financial circumstances are difficult, her own life is made worse by an unkind teacher, mean-spirited classmates, and hormonal impulses.  Her uncle touches her inappropriately, a favorite uncle goes mad, a cousin dies, and her mother, who is unfamiliar with the new world setting and mores, drives her crazy. 

Nevertheless, Lena is a clear-eyed survivor exhibiting a surprising toughness of character and determination. For example, her introduction to sex is far more direct than might occur with most girls of that time.  In addition, when her teacher fails cruelly to support her artistic talents, she shows amazing defiance.   When she discovers that her father has a beautiful female friend, undoubtedly a lover, her consideration of this circumstance does not render the crushing blow that might be expected.  In retrospect she is more adult, more mature than most young women might be in each of these situations.  She is a remarkable young woman with a spirited edge.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

F. González-Crussi, professor emeritus of Pathology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, has written several books on medicine and the human body. Carrying the Heart deals with five basic organ systems; he styles them as Digestive, Scatology, Respiratory, Reproductive, and Cardiovascular.

In his Foreword, he rejects a mechanical view of the body and medicine that treats patients as passive protoplasm. He seeks to engage the imagination of his readers so that they can become active participants in health care.

For each system, González-Crussi assembles an eclectic wealth of materials: views of authors from classical times onwards, scientists who changed perceptions of the body, his own hands-on view as a pathologist, parallel organs in other mammals, and, usually, an extended narrative of a person with an unusual anatomical history. These are highly personal essays, “rhapsodies,” we might say, which stitch together unusual and interesting facts, observations, and interpretations. It’s impossible to guess what will be on the next page, and the discoveries are many. A gifted stylist, González-Crussi writes with both erudition and wit. 

For “Digestive,” he cites Livy, Paracelsus, Joan Baptista van Helmont, and others before turning to Thomas Bartholin, who questioned the notion that the stomach was somehow the “king” of the body and the seat of the soul. González-Crussi writes, “the gastric cardia admits and stores impure food, without this having any discernible effect on the soul. Nor is the soul damaged by performers at circuses and country fairs who lower swords and knives into the stomach” (p.7). The text marches on through Réamur, Spallanzani and others, before turning to the well-known story of Dr. William Beaumont and his patient Alexis St. Martin, who had a hole in his side (from a gunshot). Beaumont experimented with materials placed directly into the stomach.

Next in the digestive process are the bowels, discussed on “Scatology,” literally the study of scat or excrement. González-Crussi is fascinated by cultural values of “death, putrescence, and dissolution” that attach to our scat. He draws on Rabelais, Luther, the Gnostics, Chuang-tzu, and the Aztecs for the views on the contents and process of the bowels—more than the nature of the actual bowels themselves. The next 30 pages deal with enemas, including the modern (and discredited) notion of “auto-intoxication” a justification bruited about even today for colonics.

Oddly enough, the enema theme continues in the “Respiratory” essay, because there were “smoke enemas” for some 200 years. Page 104 shows a French illustration of interlocked tubes for this purpose; indeed the same illustration graces the slipcover for the book. González-Crussi draws on Anaximenes, Pirandello, Plutarch, Hawthorne, and others. Some 15 pages describe a famous tuberculosis patient, Frederic Chopin, although perhaps he was actually a cardiac patient.

Part I of “Reproductive” is “Female.” We quickly learn that “The uterus is placed between the bladder and the rectum. As a piece of real estate, the uterus would be much devalued by the condition of the neighborhood” (p. 152). Nonetheless, the uterus is “immunologically privileged,” fending off germs that might infect a fetus (which in itself is “half foreign” because of the father’s genes). Drawing on many commentators, González-Crussi discusses menstruation, and pregnancy, although not genital pleasure or orgasm. Some insightful pages explore the normal death of cells within our body.

Part II, “Male” discusses erections, side-curving penises, and the famous penises of Napoleon, Rasputin, and Jesus.

The last essay, “Cardiology” briefly explores two types of knowing (from the heart, from the brain) before a lengthy retelling of the Lay of Ignauer; this strange story ends with women whom he has seduced eating his cooked heart. The last section discusses Harvey’s discovery of the heart as a pump. The final two pages see a new consideration of the heart as a second brain.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem builds by repetition to a climax: "if there is a river /more beautiful than this," if there is a river more faithful, braver, more ancient, more powerful. Each repetition begins a new stanza, a stronger stanza, ending finally in a prayer that, if there is such a river, it should flow "through animals / beautiful and faithful and ancient / and female and brave." (24 lines)

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Summary:

Written by a psychiatrist and historian, American Melancholy: Constructions of Depression in the Twentieth Century looks at how culture, politics and, in particular, gender have played a role in the development of a diagnosis.  Hirshbein moves between several different worlds, showing how they intercalate and, indeed, are very much part of the same world: psychiatric nosology and cultural attitudes to the gendered expression of emotion and feelings, medication trials and magazine advice to women about how they should deal with the blues, the relations between treatment paradigms and how society views suffering.

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The Abandoned Doll

Valadon, Suzanne

Last Updated: May-19-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

In this and other works, French artist Suzanne Valadon steps outside the boundaries established for women artists in the male-dominated world of art. Portrayal of the gazed-upon female nude was reserved for men who conventionally painted them as objects: ageless, beautiful, seductive, passive, and vulnerable. Women painted flowers and children, not nudes.

Not only does Valadon violate traditional expectations, she presents an adolescent nude who, like most adolescents, is self-absorbed with her appearance. She is not positioned for the viewer's gaze, but for her own self-appraisal. The pubescent child/woman sits at the edge of the bed intent upon her own image in a handheld mirror. In contrast, a fully clothed woman, probably her mother, sits behind her on the bed gently towel-drying the girl's shoulder and arm.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This book in large-format (11 1/8  x  8 3/4 in.) is made up primarily of wonderful illustrations but there is also clear and clever text; both media clearly explain the structures and systems of the human body.  Although nominally listed as “Juvenile Literature,” The Way We Work is sophisticated and detailed enough to educate and entertain adult readers, without losing the interest of intelligent young readers.

The drawings, in pencil and watercolor, are dazzling: large, colorful, with a variety of layouts and perspectives. Many go across double-page spreads, and many include a witty image of one or more small observers. In “Mapping the Cortex,” for example (pp. 158-159), an enormous, multicolored brain takes up most of two pages; it is partially exploded into 11 areas, labeled by name and function, and coded (sensory, motor, or association). A tiny (one-inch) man below with a question mark over his head looks at a dangling rope (I think) hanging from the brain. A small text block fits in the lower left-hand corner.

The book is organized by seven chapters, each for a body system, such as “Let’s Eat” (digestive system), “Who’s in Charge Here?” (nervous system), and “Battle Stations” (immune system). While the parts of the body (anatomy) are clearly shown, the book stresses biological process (physiology), truly “the way we work,” and in considerable detail. In “Let’s Eat,” for example, there are 50 pages, starting from what foods we eat, our sense of smell, taste receptors, teeth, chewing muscles, salivary glands and saliva, the entire alimentary canal, including biochemical and molecular activity, the roles of pancreas, liver, and kidney, and urinary and fecal outputs.

Children of all ages will enjoy “Journey’s End,” which shows a gigantic rectum miraculously suspended over a cityscape, with dump trucks arriving below it to receive stupendous loads.  Indeed, there is much humor in the book, both in the drawings and in the text blocks. 

 

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Childless Woman

Plath, Sylvia

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker, the "childless woman" of the poem, describes the way infertility has rendered her body aimless and horrible. Her womb, like a dried-out plant, "rattles its pod." Her body is a knot, lines turned back on themselves instead of leading to the future, making it unnatural, "Ungodly as a child’s shriek." All her body can produce is the blood of menstruation, which signifies her own death, and a surreal and horrifying landscape "gleaming with the mouths of corpses." (18 lines)

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A group of eight women gather for a joint consultation with Dr. Kailey Madrona who is a devotée and colleague of the research endocrinologist, Dr. Jerilynn Prior, a professor at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Madrona explains that she has arranged for the unorthodox group encounter because she will be leaving practice to pursue graduate studies in medical history.

Dr. Madrona leads an open-ended discussion on the physiological changes associated with perimenopause. Following the controversial research of Prior, she emphasizes that the symptoms are owing to the unbalanced rise in estrogen levels during perimenopause—a period leading up to the cessation of menstruation and continuing for twelve months after the last flow.

Some women patients are skeptical, because they have been placed on estrogen ‘replacement” medication, or they have read that their symptoms are owing to the waning of estrogen. The doctor describes the results of various trials about supplmentary estrogen, including the 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association report. She invites them to keep detailed diaries of their cycles and symptoms.

One by one the women return for private consultation, physical examination, discussion and another follow up visit. Although they have reached roughly the same physiological moment in life, they are a diverse group with different symptoms and needs. Darlene, an angry nurse, is suspicious and non-compliant. Beverley, an Asian immigrant is still hoping to become pregnant. A lesbian wishes to control her moods and hot flashes. A very hard-working waitress needs to understand her strange lack of energy. A wiry, lean athelete wants to improve her performance and is irritated by the inexplicable alterations in her abilities. Others are plagued by sweats, nausea, or migraines. They all are confused about sex.

Dr. Madrona listens to them carefully, examines them with special attention to their breasts, not their genitalia, and recommends treatment with progesterone for everyone. She also urges weight gain for most and readily volunteers personal information about her own perimenopause. All but the nurse eventually comply and are relieved of their symptoms. At the end of a year they meet for a pot-luck dinner to celebrate their recovered health and thank their doctor. Beverley is pregrant.

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35/10

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this vanitas poem a mother's brushing of her pubescent daughter's "dark silken hair" becomes an occasion for meditation on the "story of replacement": the child's impending womanhood and her own mortality.

As the speaker's own skin begins to dry, the daughter's "purse" fills with "eggs, round and firm as hard-boiled yolks." The purse, the speaker knows, is about to snap its reproductive clasp. In her child's handheld mirror the biological differences are noted when the narrator observes her graying hair and folds in her neck that are clearly visible.

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