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WOMBS ETC

Why won’t they just let us have our PMS in peace?

A report in the Daily Mail claims that PMS is "little more than a figment of our imagination”

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By Lily Peschardt on

“The women academics who insist PMT is all in your mind,” today’s Daily Mail boldly declares. You can almost feel them rubbing their hands together, knowing that women like me will sit there, open-mouthed, filled with a rage that borders on bemusement as they suggest that PMS “is little more than a figment of our imagination”.

The piece is hooked on a book by health psychologist, Robyn Stein DeLuca, who argues, “While hormones do cause some physical and emotional symptoms – women can get cramps, bloating and feel depressed – they certainly don't affect us emotionally to the point that it's a big deal. That's where the myth is. That's where it's not true.”

Putting aside the fact that she literally just said that during certain parts of their menstrual cycle women “feel depressed” and dismissed that as not being “a big deal”, what the argument fails to address is the effect that physical symptoms can (and do) have on your mental health. Being uncomfortable for days at a time, having stomach cramps, feeling bloated and sore can be exhausting and incredibly frustrating. Naturally, it can affect your mood, your attitude, your sense of humour.

To be clear, DeLuca believes that PMS exists, she just believes that amount of people who are truly affected by it is somewhere between 3 and 8 per cent, rather than the commonly cited 90 per cent. So why does she think that so many women are exaggerating their symptoms? Well partly, she thinks it’s an expectations game – we’re told from a young age that PMS is out there so according to her, “we internalise this idea that our bodies must be faulty,” which is a strange use of words, but OK. She believes the medical community exacerbate this belief, “We see this again and again that normal life stages, such as pregnancy and childbirth, are treated as sicknesses that have to have some kind of intervention.”

Right.

Even if PMS didn’t exist, even if DeLuca is right, the truth remains that we live in a society that refuses to take women’s pain seriously, a society that admonishes women for showing emotion and praises men for it

But the real reason she thinks that women say they have PMS is because of societal pressure. “You lose your good woman crown if you say: 'I just don't feel like doing this right now,' and relinquish your responsibilities,” DeLuca argues. “But if you say it's PMS, it's like a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's women's excuse for when they need a break.”

Sure, I’ve used PMS to get out of drinks I didn’t want to go to or as an explanation as to why I why I started openly weeping at an overly emotional chewing gum commercial. But I’ve also claimed I had a headache, I was homesick or that I forgot to feed my cat. The fact that women lie to get out of social situations isn’t exactly the smoking gun that DeLuca seems to think it is. However, the fact that periods causes over 5 million sick days per year and that in some instances, when GPs don’t take PMS seriously, it can have severe impacts on women’s mental health seem to be a fairly clear indicator that periods do have a real impact on women’s lives, whether she believes these women are telling the truth or not.

That being said, there are threads of DeLuca’s argument I agree with: she says that PMS is also perpetuated by men to invalidate women’s anger and keep them from succeeding. “Throughout time, men have used PMS, or the idea that women are hormonal lunatics and have mercurial moods, to keep them out of power,” she explains. “It keeps people from thinking women should be leaders. After all, how can we let women make big decisions or be dependable when their crazy hormones can strike at any time?”

She’s right, this myth that women can’t be in power because their hormones can’t be trusted still exists today – just ask Hillary Clinton. This idea that women must completely separate themselves from their womanhood to be able to succeed still holds water, but I don’t think it’s because people are afraid of women’s menstrual cycle, so much as that people don’t trust women, with all their lady emotions, to make sensible and rational decisions.

Men, we are told, can control themselves. No matter that they have started practically every war in modern history. No matter that they murder and rape and beat women because if a woman was in power, imagine what embarrassing displays of emotion she might show. Oh, FYI this is an actual tweet the President of the United States sent out this week:

We have spent lifetimes shrugging at men’s behaviour, pardoning their actions with ridiculous tropes like, “boys will be boys” and moving on. Because we see men’s emotions as reasonable, while women are “hysterical”, women “howl”, women “squawk”. Even if PMS didn’t exist, even if DeLuca is right, the truth remains that we live in a society that refuses to take women’s pain seriously, a society that admonishes women for showing emotion and praises men for it.

So you know what? If I want to use PMS to get out of my yoga class next week, I damn well will.

@LilyPesch

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