I’ve been reading this Mumsnet thread about whether or not joking about PMT is sexist. As an aside, I think it is sexist because references to women’s menstrual cycles are often used as a way of dismissing or minimising women’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
Premenstrual tension, also called Premenstrual Syndrome, describes a collection of physical and emotional symptoms ranging from irritability to headaches. At the more devastating ends of the scale, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder sounds as if it could seriously reduce a woman’s quality of life, while hormonally augmented migraines are no walk in the park either. I don’t dispute that PMT exists, or that it can cause a high degree of unpleasantness.
However, I think we need to be more aware of what constitutes actual PMT, and the popular culture version of PMT which is a trope frequently used to put women in their place. The diagnosis of PMT puts more emphasis on the emotional than on the physical symptoms. The same is true of its popular perception. But putting all our negative feelings down to hormones is a slippery slope to becoming a perpetually cheerful Stepford Wife.
My ‘yes!’ moment reading that Mumsnet thread was a comment by a poster called ‘sunshineandbooks’ who voiced what I have been pondering for a while:
“Maybe the hormones are responsible for shaking off all the social conditioning. Maybe all these ‘hormonal’ women are actually thinking more accurately while they’re menstruating and that’s why men find it so threatening and like to use it to undermine women.”
I know it might be slightly ‘out there’ and I’m risking offending lots of women who suffer horrifically from PMT (and I don’t mean to deny that hormones can cause all kinds of awful symptoms and feelings at different points during the menstrual cycle), but this is exactly the conclusion I came to last time my daughter’s dad dismissed my displeasure at something he had said or done.
What if we start seeing PMT not as a disorder that makes women irrational and unreasonable?
What if, instead, we stand by our anger/sadness and say ‘yes I’m pissed off. Because I am. Because this is just unreasonable.’
Perhaps hormonal changes allow us to access our real views and emotions and force us to articulate them with no fear of reproach.
Of course we are afraid of reproach, that’s precisely why we say ‘ooh, I’m feeling a tad hormonal today’, and we’ve all heard at least one pregnant woman or new mother explain away her emotional vulnerability; most of us have probably been that woman. But these hormones serve a purpose. Crying at the news or an advert which deliberately tugs at our heartstrings is a side effect of experiencing massive hormonal changes which will also allow us to bond with our babies and make us feel an emotional imperative to look after them.
So perhaps the hormones which make us feel ‘irrational’ equally serve a purpose. Perhaps this is a time when we see and think most clearly. Would it be possible to ‘own’ our feelings during this time and embrace them as a source of energy to make our lives go the way we want?