I am a woman, equipped with hormones, monthly menstrual cycles and all the pain and hassle that comes with them. I am a woman, and like other human beings, I sometimes become angry. I sometimes become frustrated, and I sometimes become annoyed. And yes, I sometimes make no bones about displaying those emotions to those close to me and to the world. Like all human beings, my emotions sway, and sometimes I behave in a way that is less than what society expects of me.
Yet, as a woman, I have been plagued by an assumption about my emotions that has followed me since blossoming into womanhood: the idea that when I succumb to displays of irritation or anger, I must be PMSing.
Now, I haven’t conducted a survey, but I don’t think this is an uncommon experience for women. I have been party to and have witnessed many instances of men (and yes, other women) writing off a woman’s aggressive behavior as being inherently linked to her hormones and periods. In fact, it’s something that women have been experiencing for hundreds of years.
Have you ever heard of a medical condition called hysteria? It’s not something you’ll find in many modern medical texts, but if you’re a history buff you might know what I’m talking about.
Dating back to ancient Greece and especially prevalent in the 19th century, hysteria was a medical diagnosis given exclusively to women for exhibiting behaviors such as “nervousness,” “irritability,” “sexual desire,” and a “tendency to cause trouble.” The cure? A doctor-administered “pelvic message.”
Although the idea of female hysteria was widely rejected in the 20th century, the idea of a woman’s emotions being tied to her hormones has lived on.
Imagine the following scenarios: two boys, complaining to each other about how their girlfriends have been frustrated over a stressful situation and suggesting that they must be PMSing; a waitress ranting about rude customers after a long day at work, and a male co-worker telling her to “stop PMSing” or asking if she’s “on her period.” Not hard to imagine, are they? I have witnessed these scenarios play out in the past month alone, and it seems like all my female friends have similar stories.
It’s true that high levels of estrogen, as found in most women during their reproductive years, are thought to have an effect on a person’s mental and emotional health. I know many women who describe having intense bouts of depression or instability before or during their periods. The effects of PMS are a real concern for many.
However, here’s the thing: women get angry. We get pissed, we get annoyed, we experience a wide range of negative emotions, and sometimes we don’t shy away from vocalizing them. We are susceptible to these emotions at any given time, and we are not perpetually PMSing. I’m not sure if the people who make these comments were sleeping through their high school health classes, but PMS is not a constant state of being – it occurs during a relatively short frame of time each month. And even if a woman is PMSing, why should that make her anger invalid?
You can’t dismiss someone’s emotions by pinning them on their estrogen levels. We are not slaves to our hormonal shifts. In a culture that is increasingly demanding of women to both advance in their careers and be reliable caretakers for their families, why shouldn’t we get frustrated? We’re taking on roles that have been traditionally filled by males while also trying to maintain the traditional female roles that most men are reluctant to step into. Life is difficult and unpredictable, and sometimes we’re going to get angry, and sometimes we’re going to show it. We are entitled to our aggression, just like you’re entitled to yours.
And no, I’m not PMSing. I’m just angry.
Written by RP