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Feminism 101: Periods

Editor note: This is an old post of Melissa’s, but it’s an issue we haven’t addressed here, and myths about PMS are still well worth debunking.

originally posted at Shakesville by Melissa McEwan at Monday, March 17, 2008

an advertisment for Midol which argues that you ought to take the drug so that you will be more pleasant to be around FOR HIM
And here I always thought it was my period!

Even though this is technically Woman 101, I’m filing it under Feminism 101, because I don’t feel inclined to create a separate category of informative posts about the mysteries of boobies and cooters. I do, however, just want to take a moment to quickly address a myth about menstruation that has always aggravated me, but is now seriously grating on my last good nerve like a cheese grater to parmesan at the Olive Garden.

(And yes, sadly, it has reached a fevered pitch because a woman, and a post-menopausal woman at that, is running for president.)

“Ooh, touchy! You must be on the rag!”—First we need to deal with the fact that anyone who says this is an idiot, and not just because they have the emotional maturity of a zygote. The misogynistic “joke” here is predicated on the concept that women are “moody” when they have PMS, which stands for premenstrual syndrome. Pre. As in before. As in not having her period yet. For many PMS-sufferers, getting one’s period alleviates some of all symptoms of PMS, particularly as regards irritability and tension. So the whole “on the rag” thing doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, for a whole lot of women. I suppose the sort of fuck-knuckle who uses a “joke” like this isn’t too concerned about its medical accuracy, but I’m a pedant, so there you go.

My real gripe, however, is the general presumption, which is widely held, even by some of the most feminist people I know, that women who suffer cyclical irritability with their menstrual cycles get “irrational” and/or express anger about things that don’t really bother them; it’s just that they’re being “sensitive” because of the whole period thing. The problem is that I’ve seen people using that erroneous presumption as an excuse to not deal with the issue about which anger is being expressed, including women themselves, who have been told over and over that their periods do make them irrational and sensitive and thusly feel inclined to exhort partners to “just ignore” them—a request often obliged with no small amount of self-congratulation.

Let’s put this shit to bed right now: Women don’t lose their minds when they have period-related irritability. It doesn’t lower their ability to reason; it lowers their patience and, hence, tolerance for bullshit. If an issue comes up a lot during “that time of the month,” that doesn’t mean she only cares about it once a month; it means she’s bothered by it all the time and lacks the capacity, once a month, to shove it down and bury it beneath six gulps of willful silence. Those are the things most worth paying attention to. (By both people involved.)

Such a bargain was struck at Shakes Manor many years ago, with a conversation that went something like this:

Liss: If I find one more of your trimmed whiskers in my fucking toothbrush, I will rip your throat out.

Mr. Shakes: Why is it oonly when yer PMS-ing that my filthy bathroom habits toorn ye into a raving lunatic, wooman?

Liss: Your filthy bathroom habits annoy me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s only when I’m PMS-ing that I lack the tolerance and inclination to bite my tongue.

Mr. Shakes: Oh. I get it noo.

He tries not to get whiskers in my toothbrush. I try to mention things before I’m at the end of my rope. If I get to the point where I’m hanging on by a thread, we both pay particular attention. That seems to work.

Oh, also? Not treating PMS like something about which I should be ashamed. I experience it. It makes me short-tempered.

There are things that make Mr. Shakes short-tempered, too—like being under the gun at work. We pay attention in the same way, then. He’s not ashamed, either—not that anyone was ever telling him he should be.

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8 comments on “Feminism 101: Periods

  1. Very unfortunate that some women like to use PMS as an excuse and men like to assume that whenever a girl becomes angry, that automatically means she’s PMS’ing or on her period. I agree with your statement about the “PM” in PMS… even some girls I know don’t quite know the difference between PMS and menstruation. I think out of a handful of girls and guys, you’d only find a few that make a clear differentiation between the two and when women themselves don’t use the right terminology, it is hard for guys to.

    I’m going to have to admit men are pretty clueless about menstruation and that’s why I created my blog to share what little knowledge (or at least more than the average guy) I have about it in hopes that it can educate them with some practical/working-knowledge about it. I suppose this entry gives me a good idea on a topic I can write on in the near future!! :D When hormones are at play… the boys run away =\ Too bad.

  2. Ah, the PMS comment is on my short list of terribly offensive comments I’ve heard more than once. There’s nothing okay about it and it makes me personally made for the following reasons:

    One – Women are allowed to be mad, testy, etc. And when we are, it’s real and deserves a real response. The world does not get to dismiss our anger for uncontrolable biology.

    Two – My mentrual cycle is private and it is impolite and offensive to comment on it. It’s no more appropriate to comment about than whether I have cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.

    Three – Cycle related mood swings are not a universal thing. Some of us feel the same every day of the month.

  3. This post addresses issues that are quite often perceived on the norm by a wide range of people. it’s not even a certain type of race or age group that tends to do it more than others. No matter what maturity level one may be they seem to never acknowledge the fact that a woman can be set off easily even if it isn’t that time of the month when something shouldn’t be going on bothers her. I feel that for years society has viewed women as the sex that will be calm, collective an not allow to show any emotion of anger or violence when something pisses her off. Women shouldn’t have to defend their point and later on have to use the excuse ‘Sorry about before…I’m on my period’ Knowing now in this time that women have become a sex to be recon with and how statistical data show that more women go to college than men, I believe that when making arguments women would take all parts of the circumstances and situation into account for.

  4. For every man saying “you have your period therefor you are grumpy” or vice versa, there is a women apologizing for her awful behaviour with her period as the excuse.

    It’s no big conspiracy that tired people get grumpy too, but it’s not a sin to accuse someone of needing more sleep. Plenty of apologies I have heard revolved around the I’m too tired defense.

    Apology accepted, life goes on.

    Personally if everyone had thicker skins and less “I’m the victim” attitudes then we’d have a world full of more honesty. But we don’t say what we think and feel and we outright lie to please others.

    Assumptions are usually either ignorance or experience based and for every wrong one there’s a right one.

    If we are to cull one set of presumptuous actions then let’s be sure we cull them all and not give any special “priveledges”.

    Life’s too short right?

    • the world has told women that if she is “acting up”, opinionated, or aggressive, then her body is to blame… I wouldn’t say women use their period as an excuse, I would lean more toward the idea that women are not suppose to express such emotions/qualities. We are suppose to be “ladylike” and submissive, not aggressive and opinionated. The “average” female will menstruate 3000 days in her lifetime… and unfortunatly is considered less abled physically and mentally during this time, as well as the 5 days before… so add another few thousand days to the 3000 when a female is not considered “stable” and is more or less told that she is not stable by tv ads, tampon/pad ads, midol ads, males in her life, doctors, etc. It is depressing to think about. Women need to take back their periods!

      Check out the book FLOW!!!

    • 1. you spelled “priveledges” wrong.
      2. yes people do have privilege, some more than others. That’s not to say that THEY did something wrong, it’s the ways in which they get treated in a more positive way by society.

      http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~scpp/pdfs/whiteprivilegechecklist.pdf

      http://queersunited.blogspot.com/2008/10/heterosexual-privilege-checklist.html

      http://sap.mit.edu/content/pdf/male_privilege.pdf

      “Even if I sleep with a lot of women, there is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing.”

  5. the PM of PMS is actually perimenstrual… and it constitutes the 5 days before and 3 days into ones period… further, there have been studies (McFarley) that have actually shown that the mass majority of women do not experience PMS. You should check it out. It is not to say that some women do not experience symptoms, though the majority do not.

    Menstruation, like all other female-only physiological experiences, has been medicatlized by scientific/medicinal institutions. Midol? It is only caffeine (a diuretic) + acetaminophen (tylenol). It is a way to charge alot more money to women to “fix” a problem of their’s, which is a natural process that has occured since the beginning of time!

    Unfortunatly, the “feminine hygeine industry” has capitalized on this, and from day one of a females life, she is told that she should hate her period, try and hide her period, pretend it doesn’t exist. The only discourse in contemporary culture around menstruation is negative, and it is often related to PMS.

    Thank you for listening to my thoughts/rant!!

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