by Clarisse Thorn on 2.16.2011 ·
It’s dangerous to start posts with anecdotes, but I’m gonna try it again. This one is from when I was a little baby proto-feminist, and I got my period. My mama, who was born in the USA in 1945, regaled me with stories about old myths around menstruation: she talked about how when she went to college, for example, her home economics teacher very seriously reassured the students that “Now, it’s just not true that if you bake a cake while menstruating, the cake will fall,” and “Now, it’s just not true that if you milk a cow while menstruating, the milk will sour.” Imagine, if you will, living in a world where that kind of myth-busting had to be offered at the university level.
Mom then told me all about how PMS used to be viewed by doctors when she was young; how many male doctors used to simply refuse to accept the existence of PMS; how patronizing doctors would be when she was growing up, about her body and her experience. Mom suggested that I someday take a look at the gynecological sections of 1950s-1960s medical textbooks, just so I could see how medieval they were. She talked about how it used to be accepted among doctors — who were almost all male, natch — that a woman who felt cramps while menstruating was making it up. That a woman who felt unusually emotional or even in physical pain while menstruating was just being all hysterical, moody and useless — you know the way women are! She explained that as more women became doctors and feminism gained traction and science advanced with a broader perspective, PMS became recognized as a real thing. Cramps were no longer “typical female hysteria”.
I thought about this recently when I saw the 2009 film “Jennifer’s Body”, which was written by avowed feminist Diablo Cody (who wrote “Juno” too), and which I ended up liking a lot more than I usually like horror flicks. Here’s the menstruation-relevant exchange:
Needy [the main character]: Are you PMSing or something?
Jennifer: PMS isn’t real Needy, it was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem like we’re crazy.