As a feminist, period-haver, and combination bitchy loud-mouth/soft-hearted doormat, I have a complicated relationship with PMS. On the one hand, fuuuuuuuck PMS! The idea that my moods, which arise from my incredibly complex, stressful, dynamic life, can be reduced to some hormonal flux at the whim of my reproductive system is deeply insulting. It's a notion whose only point is to delegitimize women's actual complaints and reduce us, yet again, to our stupid, stupid genitals. It's a silencing tactic. Sure, guys — I'm incapable of rational thought because my junk is an innie instead of an outie. Makes perfect sense. Sorry I disturbed you men with my little girl-problems! I know you're busy — after all, minority groups don't disenfranchise themselves!
But on the other hand, sometimes I love my PMS. I want to snuggle it like an old blankie. Because there are days when I wake up pissed-off, when everything is shit, when I cry because my boyfriend loaded the dishwasher "wrong" (really, self?) or I spilled lasagna on my sports bra (who cares???) or because of that fucking BRUTAL Google Chrome commercial (seriously, though) — and I'm like, AM I AN ACTUAL CRAZY PERSON? What is the deal with me!? And then, just when I'm about to start crying about being a crying crazy person who cries about lasagna and advertising...oh, yeah...menses!!! It's just my kooky old "Aunt Period Blood" coming for her monthly visit! (That's the little code name I use for when I have to talk about menses in mixed company.) I use that excuse on myself even if, in my heart, I know that my cycle is weeks away. It just helps.
It's like when I'm having one of those terrible weeks where it seems like I can't communicate with anyone and then my sister tells me — well, duh — that Mercury is in retrograde. And I'm like, "Ohhhhhhh, so THAT'S it!" and I instantly feel better. Even though what the fuck is Mercury retrograde I don't even believe in that shit at all!!! But I do believe in it. When it feels good. Same with PMS.
That's not to say that PMS symptoms aren't a real thing, per se — I certainly believe that they are — but in many respects it's a cultural condition as much as a physical one. Do my hormones affect my mood? Definitely. Do they do anything beyond that? Do they make it impossible for me to make rational decisions? Do they change my brain chemistry so much that suddenly I'm going to abandon all practicality and actively work against my own interests? Do they stop me from doing my job? OF FUCKING COURSE NOT. And if my situation did devolve to that point, then I would have a mental health issue, not a reproductive one.
In a new review published in the journal Gender Medicine, researchers at the University of Toronto aggregated scientifically sound clinical research on PMS and PMDD symptoms, to determine whether or not female emotionality could be primarily and reliably linked with reproductive function. What they found was this: "the articles, in aggregate, 'failed to provide clear evidence in support of the existence of a specific premenstrual negative mood syndrome.'"
It's not that PMS doesn't exist — it's just that we tend to dismissively blame everything on PMS, as though women don't have any actual reasons to be sad or angry or bitter or resentful. Via The Atlantic:
Romans isn't saying that the mood symptoms we attribute to PMS aren't real and common. But she is saying that those symptoms are culturally over-attributed to the menstrual cycle, to the detriment of the medical community and those experiencing them — and as a broader issue of gender equality.
BOOM. I love this article. More more more!!!
"I think this can be seen as the modern day equivalent of the old wandering womb notion," she told me, "that women are hysterical because of their reproductive system. And when a woman's upset, it's still often one of the first thoughts people have — maybe she's premenstrual — rather than 'Is her physical health bad? Is she under a lot of stress? Is she lacking social support?'"
"I go beyond that in my own thinking, which is that the whole PMS notion serves to keep women non-irritable, sweet, and compliant the rest of the time. There is a range of paradoxes — world-turned-upside-down events — like festivals, Mardi Gras, where people are socially prescribed to behave out of role. In Europe in medieval times there'd be one day a year where the lord would serve his own servants and workers, and then the rest of the time it's the other way, servant obeying the master. And these kinds of rituals serve to embed the normal behavior. I think PMS is a bit like that. 'We'll let you be cranky and bad-tempered now, but just for one or two days. The rest of the time you've got to be like a true woman.' Of course that's pretty feminist and hard to get data for, but at times I think it explains quite a lot."
If you need me I'll be over here fist-pumping the sky until I dislocate my elbow.
Again, it's not that I don't think my hormones affect my mood. They certainly do, once in a while. But it's as simple as that — MY MOOD. Not my basic human competence. And that's why this PMS myth is so destructive: It blows a mild biological inconvenience out of proportion until it defines and constrains an entire gender. Men are people. Women are incubators. Life-support systems for reproductive organs that define us and yet are not our own to control. I'm a person—I'm not vagina-Krang.
A friend of mine, comedian Hari Kondabolu, does a bit he calls his "feminist dick joke," in which he skewers the idea that we could never have a female president because of her three irrational days per month. You should watch it, at left—the joke starts around 1:45—but here's the crux:
We have men who actually believe that a woman, because of her biology, has her judgment impaired once a month. Well, I'm a man with a penis and testicles — my judgment is impaired every five to seven minutes. And I'll be honest with you. I wake up some mornings with my judgment impaired.
This is the thing. Yeah, PMS is real and it can be a pain in the ass, but it's not insurmountable and all-encompassing. It is a mild bad mood, for fuck's sake. Sometimes there is some crying. Sometimes Ben & Jerry's has to get involved. But it does not define my life any more than errant boners define Barack Obama's life. (In fact, PMS almost certainly circumscribes women's lives drastically less than erections do men's.) It's not as though if I were the FUCKING PRESIDENT I'd wake up one morning and hop on the red phone and be all, "OKAY SYRIA, JUST HAND OVER THE CHOCOLATE AND NO ONE GETS HURT." I wouldn't change President's Day to Brownie Batter Makes the Boo-Hoos Stop Day and I wouldn't legalize marriage between a woman and a pair of stilettos. I would, you know, do president stuff, only with maybe kind of a shitty 'tude once a month. And that is because I am a human goddamn being, not a fleshy trophy case for a vagina. My hormones might be strong, but my brain is stronger.
PMS and the Wandering Womb [The Atlantic]