Blame it on "PMS"?

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Shadia Mansour, NWHN Intern
Thu, November 01, 2012

Last Fall I began a research project that left many asking why I would want to voluntarily spend 9 months on the topic of menstruation and “PMS” (Premenstural Syndrome). My reason was simple: I wanted to know why menstruation is made out to be the recurring female burden and why “I’m PMS-ing” has become synonymous for “I have my period.” While many of the answers I found were in my favorite Anthropology and Women’s Studies journals and books, most of what I discovered came from talking to women and observing popular media (advertisements, movies, T.V. shows, you name it).

Beginning with my discussions with women, it was quickly affirmed that the “time of the month” wasn’t the favorite “time of the month” (agreed!). And as it turns out, related commercials supported these negative thoughts! For example, a popular tampon commercial depicts “Mother Nature” delivering the monthly “gift” which unfortunately interrupts the woman’s romantic dream or relaxing day at the beach. But have no fear, ladies! Tampax is here to save the day! This same theme is seen in menstrual-pain relieving commercials - A montage of women listing off period “symptoms” such as bloating, fatigue, cramps, and back pain, but with the relief of a special drug just for women - phew!

Though, the truth is, sometimes periods do inconveniently “pop-in” and leave us less than comfortable. However, this shouldn’t leave us thinking our periods are some sort of illness, with the label of “PMS,” in need of treatment to be “normal” again. Ideas that medicalize menstruation and develop syndromes such as “PMS” are largely based on assumptions about femininity. This makes experiences such as moodiness, cramping and bloating “abnormal” rather than simply just experiences felt by women.

This illness idea was seen widely among the women I interviewed for my project. Many stated that they “PMS-ed” frequently and could tell because they would be “moody,” “irritable,” and more “tired” than usual. I, in no way, was out to prove these feelings wrong or to say it’s “all in your head” to those I spoke with. These experiences are completely REAL and should be validated, but are they really the result of “PMS”? Studies show that the menstrual cycle is a very small factor in emotional cycles while many other health and social variables play a bigger role. So it’s time we stop the belief that our emotions are attributable to our reproductive function and that our menstrual cycle is “constraining”.

And sure, we may face some “period blues” and it may not be the most fun 4-7 days out of our month, but the notion that our periods are “naturally abnormal” and a source for medical and clinical intervention should be challenged (Wiley, Fausto-Sterling).  Let’s stop blaming “PMS”!

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