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.
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.