By Beth Walters
CN: Periods, sexism, PMDD,
images showing blood and periods
‘Urgh, hormones’. ‘I’m sorry, I must just be hormonal’, ‘I’m such a moody b*tch right now’. These are the familiar conversational watermarks embellishing many period-havers and uterus-owners’ ‘time of the month’. How is it that the hormone cycles of a vast swathe of the population have become a flippant dismissal for emotion? And how does one know when it’s gone too far to ‘just be PMS’?
Levels of hormonal change throughout the (average) monthly cycle of those who menstruate are thought to account for changes in mood, sex drive and even skin. However, it’s not actually known for certain what specifically causes the sometimes dizzying changes in emotional state. Many people first experience the contraceptive pill as a medium for emotional regulation, and to make associated hormonal mood changes more predictable. However, some may find that hormonal birth control exacerbates the issue. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. But should PMS even be considered a ‘problem’ to be solved?
“For centuries, extremes of emotion or emotional ‘softness’ have been considered the preserve of women”
For centuries, extremes of emotion or emotional ‘softness’ have been considered the preserve of women, and emotional errancies and hysteria have been viewed as debilitating. The first vibrators were produced to provide ‘manual relief’ from such hysteria, and the battle cry against women in the workplace made frequent reference to the ‘inevitable’ unpredictability and chaos that would ensue if you allowed such cyclically dictated beings to take charge. Even more recent examples of the terminology used around those who aren’t cis men is emotion-centric and, more importantly, emotion-dismissing. Donald Trump’s famous taunt of ‘nasty woman’ can arguably be included under the bracket of ways women’s emotions can be considered ‘too much’ in a stubbornly patriarchal world.
The relationship between this and PMS is evident. Firstly, there is a central interrogation: ‘how often are rational and valid concerns and emotions dismissed, either by oneself or others, as being down to hormones?’ Moreover, strong emotional expressions are frustratingly delegitimised when people who menstruate are asked, ‘Are you on your period?’ or, perhaps more insidiously, when our emotions are denied acknowledgement ‘just in case’ they are period-related.
Finally, there is the question of the arbitrary line between a ‘normal’ hormonal fluctuation and a genuine medical concern. A diagnosis further than PMS can be made, of PMDD. This is premenstrual dysphoric disorder and is characterised by changes in mood and mental state that go beyond the range considered acceptable for PMS. It is estimated 8% of women have this, and a further 18% are considered borderline for the disorder. If this is considered a ‘serious and disabling form of premenstrual syndrome’, why are earlier and lesser signs of it so easily dismissed? We should be alarmed that this disorder can often be missed, particularly in light of reports of doctors’ immediate dismissal of period-havers’ concerns. Far too often conditions which are symptomatic of PMDD are dismissed as ‘normal’ as doctors’ fail to take legitimate concerns seriously and use the appropriate diagnostic tools to decipher at what stage severe PMS can be viewed as PMDD.
Or are these diagnoses inconsequential? Considering such a large proportion of the population experience, and are at the ‘mercy’ of their hormones, could the real solution reside in the destigmatisation of emotion, fluctuation, and expression of extremes? Could more credit be given to the intuition of hormones? Is society’s view of changes and cycles dictated by a cis-patriarchal world that prioritises the voices of those who have no experiences of these patterns? Perhaps it’s worth considering how society would view, and react, to PMS if those who have historically held power had regular periods of greater sensitivity, changeability and fluctuation.