Whoooooops Your "Scientific" Sexism!

[Content note: this entry contains discussion of gender essentialism, sexism, and mood disorders.]

Heya, you know all those totally sweet sexist jokes and discrimination and miscellaneous bullshit that gets lobbed at women on account of they go NUTS from PMS every month, amirite amirite? I know you do! Well, whooooops your "scientific" justification for that garbage!

So, of the published research, several large studies have found associations between various phases of the menstrual cycle and moods. But they vary as to which phase. And sometimes no relationship exists at all.

The review doesn't discount the organic nature of cyclic moods, but it does suggest that hormonal fluctuations related to the menstrual cycle aren't definitively or regularly to blame. And "when there is a menstrual cycle tie-up," Romans explains, "it's actually perimenstrual -- the premenstrual (3-5 days before menstruation) and the menstrual phases together -- not purely premenstrual."

Speaking as someone who deals with both depression and endometriosis, and who therefore has been known to track both my menstrual cycles and my moods fairly closely, I can definitely attest that the actual tracking has shown me (to my own surprise) that my moods have little, if anything, to do with my menstrual cycle and everything to do with exogenous stressors.

Other people are different, of course, and the study doesn't discount the experiences of people who DO experience menstrual-related mood disorders. But it suggests that the evidence certainly doesn't support the broad categorizations that are often made about women's moods and their menstrual cycles. Rather than stopping with "Oh, it's PMS," we should be asking wider questions about the suffering person's health, stress levels, support networks and the like. You know, take them seriously, and not just as a collection of unpredictable hormones! Makes sense to me.

And I kinda love Dr. Sarah Romans for calling it like it is:

"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....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.'

It's not PMS. It's Mardi Gras for Ladyfeelings!

[NB: Not all women have menstrual cycles. Not all people who have menstrual cycles are women.]

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