The PMS Myth

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 Artwork by Monika Correa

Artwork by Monika Correa

You may have noticed that during a recent Fox News Debate with journalist Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump had his rich-old-white-man feelings hurt because she had the audacity to question him on an array of sexist statements he had made in the past. Trump lashed back at Kelly later by saying, “you could see there was blood was coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her - wherever”. Were we surprised? Not really. This is, after all the same man who shared a tweet that questioned Hilary Clinton’s presidential capabilities on the grounds that she “can’t satisfy her husband”.

What this most recent Trump related scandal does bring to light is the depressing but undeniable fact that a woman’s credibility and rationality can so easily be dismantled by pointing to the universally acknowledged truth that she, like all women, suffers monthly from ‘an emotional disorder’ known as PMS. PMS is caused by fluctuations in a woman’s reproductive hormones that lead her to suffer negative emotional symptoms such as mood swings, irrationality and irritability. The crazy thing about the universally accepted ‘truth’ of PMS though, is that according to scientific evidence, it’s not even true.

In a TED Talk entitled The Good News About PMS (check it out below) physiologist Robyn Stein Deluca explains how after five decades of research there is no strong consensus on the cause, treatment, definition or existence of PMS.

That is not to suggest that fluctuations in reproductive hormones don’t effect a woman’s mood in any way, shape or form. There are over 150 symptoms that have been used to diagnose PMS; some women might feel irritable around the time of their period, some may feel anxious or sad. But experiencing some of these symptoms does not mean you have an emotional disorder.

In 1994, PMS was redefined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, a more specific version of PMS in which a woman will experience severe symptoms on a monthly basis that will have a significant effect on her social and professional life. According to an article published in Time Magazine in 2012, PMDD affects 1% to 9% per cent of women. For everyone else, our moods are more likely to be effected by variables such as stressful events, happy occasions or even days of the week.

While it is hard to believe that something as universally acknowledged as PMS is supported by little to no scientific evidence, it makes sense that western patriarchal society has had no problem accepting the existence of PMS when we consider the long standing gender roles and expectations of women in our society. A woman who is acting crabby, anxious or depressed conflicts with what we conceive as an idealistic female, i.e. a happy, bubbling baby-maker. But the idea that these emotions are being caused by her reproductive hormones means that these ‘un-lady-like’ emotions are temporary, something out of her control. She is simply a victim of her own biological system.

In order to challenge myths around PMS, women as individuals have a responsibility not to hide behind this stereotype, as comforting as it sometimes might be to do so. When we experience emotion, we shouldn’t just dismiss it as ‘that time of the month’ but consider these feelings seriously and examine their true cause. We cannot allow society to continue to deny the legitimacy of female emotions by brushing them off as symptoms of a disorder that has not been scientifically proven to exist.

The point isn’t whether or not you personally suffer from symptoms of PMS or even believe in its existence. The point is that it’s time we began challenging the myth that all women everywhere suffer from monthly bouts of uncontrollable negative emotionality. Because so far, scientific evidence shows that this is not the case. As Robyn Stein Deluca notes in her TED Talk, “When the menstrual cycle is described as a hormonal roller coaster that turns women into angry beasts, it becomes easy to question the competence of all women.”

The PMS myth contributes to the idea that all women are irrational and overemotional. This myth is what makes it possible for an out of touch billionaire in a toupee to brush off the legitimate questions he was unable to competently respond to by implying that the journalist who asked those questions was menstruating, and then demand an apology from her because, (and I quote) “I have been very nice to you, and probably could have not been.” 

I know, gross.