May 08, 2005

In Celebration of PMS

This is a tangent spinning off a discussion that began over at Bitch, Ph.D.

Scene One: Woman comes home from a long weekend away with her friends. She enters her newly painted living room, the one she worked so hard on last week, and sees that her husband has mounted onto the wall, right in the middle of the living room, the head of dead deer. Antlers, shiny glass eyeballs, and all. She shows undue restraint, acts a bit irritated, and then says apologetically: "Oh, I must have PMS."

Scene Two: Woman in long-term marriage with a man who is verbally abusive, constantly putting her down, blaming her for anything that goes wrong. Woman manages to sweetly ignore this behavior two weeks out of the month, but for the other two weeks, finds herself getting irritated. She goes to the doctor to complain that she is having problems with PMS. The doctor prescribes anti-depressants.

Scene Three: Woman reading newspaper. She sees the latest atrocity the Bush administration is perpetuating and bursts into tears. "Oh, I must have PMS," she says. She puts the newspaper away and goes off to find some chocolate.

I think our culture still expects women to be good-natured, compliant, happily accepting a subservient role. So when a woman gets angry or loud or emotional or sad or furious or indignant or pissed or weepy or rageful or strident or outspoken .... we blame it on PMS. If a woman has a 28-day cycle, that means she has PMS about half the time. Should we write a woman off for half of her existence?

Or perhaps we should see PMS as a hormonal surge that empowers her. Perhaps we should look at PMS as the timing of her cycle that brings out her best self, the self that she allows to be angry and outspoken, the self who isn't going to put up with a lot of garbage.

So I am here to say this. PMS is a good thing. Let's celebrate it. Embrace it. Maybe there are things we should be getting angry about. Let's take the first example from above, which actually did happen to a friend of mine. You come home from a relaxing weekend away, and your husband - without consulting you - has put up the heads of dead animals in your living room? I'd say that you might just be justified in getting angry there. Or the second example. If your husband is verbally abusive ... get angry! Don't medicate yourself. Demand that he change -- or get out of the marriage. Divorce him. As for the third example: if you can read the newspaper, read about kids getting killed in Iraq for no good reason or read again about how we are destroying the earth that sustains us ... if you can read all that without getting angry or sad, I'd say that it is possible you have not grasped the situation.

So for Mother's Day this year, this is a message to my women friends: embrace your moodiness! Listen to your hormones. Use your PMS self as a role model. Act every day like you've got PMS! Anger is a strength. Because really, there are things we should be getting angry about.

29 comments:

Dr. H said...

indeed! I love this. Yes, let's not apologize for letting our emotions and thoughts out.

I had a friend tell me once that, recently after getting married, her husband was concerned about all of her moods and asked her to keep a mood journal to keep track of them. !! ?? I lived this woman for a while as a roommate, and I never noticed, nor had a concern about, her moods. I assured her that her moods were not a problem to be concerned about, perhaps something to be understood, but not to be curbed necessarily. Sure, we can all learn to communicate more effectively with one another, but the idea of totally getting my moods "under control" scares me, as they are part of how I experience life.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Oy. It's not my moods that worry me when I have PMS. It's the dangerously obsessive serial relationships I develop with anonymous bags of tortilla chips...

Friday Mom said...

Yes! Embrace the moodiness!

Great post....

bitchphd said...

It'll sound kind of strange, but I view "PMS" (as commonly used, which is to say moodiness or irritability--as distinct from serious premenstrual weirdness like severe migraines or illness) kind of like being drunk: it basically lowers your inhibitions so you can do/say/feel what you really want to do/say/feel the rest of the time, but are too socially conditioned to really do.

I think this is why women get so pissed off at men who say "oh, you're just having PMS." At least, it's why I get mad at that. My response is, yeah, maybe, but that doesn't mean the feelings aren't real, and it doesn't mean I'm not right.

I will admit though that feeling exhausted and unable to do the stuff I want to do for a day or two is frustrating.

wolfa said...

I don't know. I mean, maybe it's just my version of PMS, but it's not righteous anger, or reasonable sadness, it's suicidal feelings verging, sometimes, on active suicidal ideation. I just can't see this as being good or something I want to celebrate the rest of the time.

I agree that these stories are entirely different from mine, but I don't have trouble showing anger. (Sadness, yes. I don't show it when I have PMS, though, I just feel more of it.) I am outspoken. In fact, I am more appropriately angry or outspoken or sad the rest of the month (though my cycle is longer than 4 weeks).

Laura said...

I always feel sort of off but in good ways, more productive somehow. But then, I'll occasionally get a PMS when I just feel so sad and think I'm never coming out of it. Those I don't like. The others I can deal with--and apparently so can Mr. Geeky.

liz said...

A boss once gave me a mug that says "OFTEN CRANKY". I wanted to tell him, "If you did your job, I wouldn't have to be."

Guess I'm not as cranky as he thought, huh?

Maybe I should be.

PPB said...

you go, grrrrrrrrrl

What Now? said...

I tend to be more weepy right before my period, to the point that a female coworker recently told me that I have a "crying problem." (I think that she has a cold, unfeeling problem, but that's another issue.) But I think it's not a problem to have times when my emotions are closer to the surface, more readily available for me to experience. So I'm with you--embrace the hormonal cycle!

Anonymous said...

My sister's partner suffers from these PMS-related mood swings to the point where she seems constantly angry at everything - including, of course, my sister, for doing all of the allegedly thoughtless things you seem to assume men generally do. My sister doesn't, at least not much; I don't either. I've always assumed this was due to genes, or having been raised in a much more stable environment, or just being more considerate of other people. I have no problem getting furious over the war in Iraq, but getting furious because your partner didn't put the decorative pillows in the right place is a whole nother thing.

Dr.K said...

I think I ought to stay out of this, but I can tell when my wife's PMS is starting just by the look on her face and sometimes by the silent aura of hostility that fills the room like one of those insecticide foggers. I find that if I clean up the living room and the kitchen right away and try to stay out of sight, I can usually avoid trouble, but honestly, it's touch and go. I'm sympathic because I went through some medical treatments once that totally screwed up my hormone balance. Testosterone spikes came at either three or seven o'clock, about every other day--three or seven exactly, no way to predict what day--and when they were there they caused this sick, unfocused rage, and it was very hard to control. If it came in the evening, I would just lie on my back, with a pillow over my eyes, and fantasize about smashing something--dishes, pumkins, republican senators--and eventually it would pass. During the day I sometimes had to teach through it, and I just groped my way through it in a red daze--I don't believe anybody noticed, but it wasn't really me there teaching, I was an imposter. Not the same thing, I know, but I can't tolerate men complaining about their wives'/girlfriends' PMS any more. It's too easy and makes them look too stupid.

madeline said...

This sounds like _Egalia's Daughters_, a book I had to read for a Women's lit class as an undergrad. Menstruation and childbirth were power-inducing moments in a woman's life.

The book, however, was borderline comical/parodic, and because it made fun of arbitrary gender/sex distinctions/conventions, our class had trouble taking it seriously.

But I agree with you %110.

Chord of Three Strands said...

I like chocolate.

Anonymous said...

I wish my PMS took the form of anger -- you're right, it can be empowering when directed. But mine tends towards the apathetic/anxious/unfocused end of the spectrum.

And it most definitely is hormonal. I have been charting since I was a teen-ager, and if I'm collected enough to process what I'm charting, I can see, yep, it's that point where these sorts of feelings are more common. (Though food and sleep and hugs can go a long way to making them easier to deal with. And chocolate.)

But one thing that people _don't_ seem to realize about the hormonal mood swings is that they can include _good_ ones too -- right after my period starts, I have about a week in which I have lots of energy and am very focused; after this comes a week when I'm playful and friendly and outgoing. I tried going on the pill once, and it was a nightmare, because it kept all the PMS moods and squashed the others.

Why don't we hear more about the good moods?

Rana

Andrea said...

I so agree. It irritates me to no end when we dismiss some feelings as invalid because they're "hormonal." All of our emotions are hormonal! Every one of our thoughts and feelings is a biological process. We're animals. That's what it's all about. I may be more likely to be angry when my hormonal balance shifts a certain way, but like you say, that doesn't mean it's wrong.

Anonymous said...

I can live to understand the physiological and psychological differences between a male and female, however I agree with anonymous that I don't look forward to celebrating my Wife's PMS episodes.

For 2 weeks out of a month I perform an intricately choreographed ballet routine on eggshells. No, I do not celebrate being yelled at, berated, and feeling like my home is someplace in hell. No, I don’t not like being bossed around, or told how to fold my own underwear and socks. Sure we can both try and accommodate the monthly phenomenon, if she only understood what I have to live through. Unfortunately, she does not.

Maybe there should be a club for women to attend while they are enduring PMS. Maybe they can pull each others hair out, scratch at each others eyes, berate and yell at each other. Maybe they can yell at each other how to fold socks and towels. Maybe they can boss around each other about how to park the car in the parking lot, the lighting in the clubhouse, the decor, the music, drinks, food, and any odor. Maybe they can celebrate the all-out cat fights, or food fights.

Will they be celebrating the occasion to meet again? Would they be willing to admit that they enjoy such a thing?

I don't think so.....

Celebrations? I celebrate the day it's over......

Anonymous said...

Well, as someone stated PMS can be like being a bit drunk. So, it makes our deep emotions to come to the surface and sometimes those emotions are good sometimes they are not.

Not all drunk people got abusive on their partners when they are drunk, but some of them do. Not all of them fight, but some do. It is the same case here. I feel bad for the guy that got yelled because of the towels, but that doesnt mean that in some other cases we got "emotional" with ALL the reasons in the world (like the deer head). We just let our emotions out, in some cases with reason in some cases without, exactly like the drunks.

I hate my PMS because I know I become more sensitive, but I hate more that anything that I may say got dismiss by a "oh, you are PMSsing", no matter what.

Anonymous said...

I agree to a point. Letting out these emotions is normal, it's something to be experienced, not supressed. Most men think that if there is a sudden change in emotions then something is "wrong" or "broken" and needs to be fixed. Women are perfectly fine just the way they are. Suppressing emotional distress only supresses you as a person. I believe you should let that person out and tell everyone what you feel and think.

Anonymous said...

i find it funny that after going through my life with bad pms,being told every month I was crazy, bitchy,nasty person,that the young woman of today have put a positive view on the whole thing. They only bad part is when you are done with it you get told your a nasty,crazy bitchy person because your going through the change of life,get used to it girls no matter what you do some man will blame it on your hormones,Embrace your youth girls!!!

jo(e) said...

Hey, anonymous -- I am not exactly a young woman. I am in my mid-forties.

Anonymous said...

We are all still girls in our hearts if not our bodies !!!

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I used to PMS really badly and I wonder if it was at least in part because I was allergic to milk. Then my menopause was bad, too. While I agree in theory with much of what you say, and love your thoughtful writing, I hate the way I feel INSIDE when I am PMSing (or menopausing). I feel a rage sometimes that shakes me to the core and makes it so I cannot stand being inside my own skin or near anyone else. Appropriate anger and expressing it is good, but this is way out of bounds and scary! I was and am always relieved when it is GONE!

Erin said...

I make it a point never to say aloud, as an excuse, "I'm PMSy. Sorry." Whenever I feel like screaming that, I stop myself because I don't want anyone in my life assuming that any of the behaviors, emotions, sentiments, etc. that I express in the future are "just PMS" and therefore to be humored until I'm in a better mood. I don't ever want to be dismissed like that.

What I am experiencing and expressing is valid and you had better respect that. And since society has placed such a stigma on PMS, I'm certainly not opening that door.

Anonymous said...

I have never felt such freedom, im through with menapause. I can truly say this part of my life It is the best I have ever felt.I have suffered with all the mood swings crying,manic,angry,and somtimes I have felt a little bit crazy,Like I was watching some one elese take over my body and my mind.For every one who has really bad pms It is not a fun thing to go trough your whole life. Polease just know there is light at the end of the tunnel.This is a wonderful place to come to when you are having one of those days,I wish there had been this outlet for me all those years.

jessie said...

brilliant. i was just googling 'how to cope with PMS' . never thought that maybe i don't need to 'cope'... my partner loathes me when i have PMS. he literally tries to avoid me. and i'm not that bad! So I'm with you too - embrace the hormonal cycle. (however i do need a drink right now)

Anonymous said...

My wife goes crazy at me and the kids and it's the bit that bugs me. She screams about nothing slams doors *hard* and generally ruins everyones day. I understand that it's not always hormonal and when shes angry at other times I can understand it. But why oh why cant she just try to control herself - or at least just not scream at the kids. I feel pretty helpless because she is so *unstoppable* when she gets rolling - any suggestions ladies ? help a guy out who's a loving husband and father and trying to do the right thing here

jo(e) said...

That sounds like more than PMS -- that sounds like someone who needs to figure out how to manage anger. I would encourage your wife to get therapy.

Anonymous said...

Although a husband, I think I can still comprehend the idea that PMS can be a positive concept with many benefits.

This very second though, my wife is driving me nuts. This morning she burst into tears because I smiled at her 'in a condescending way'; an hour ago she was short with me; fifteen minutes ago she was in a steamy mood and five minutes ago we had a debate about how I can't stop my daughter from getting a particular toy because 'it's on her birthday list'.

The thing I find interesting is that these two extreme representations of the same phenomenon are not incompatible; like everything else, PMS has its pros and its cons.

Right now though, I really wish more women realized the effect they have on those around them when under the auspices of PMS. :(

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else here become a nymphomanic during pms?

I see this as a terrible curse because my body becomes totally out of control and I am almost insatiable.

On the rare occasions when my boyfriend and I can time it right, it's wonderful. But in general it's something I dread and if I could shut down my sex drive completely, I would.