May 8, 2009
A couple of people have questioned me about my comments suggesting that PMS is a social construction. So I’m reposting this. I posted this on Feministing a few months ago, so if you’re interested in the responses, check out the comments there.
I know from previous posts that this is a sensitive issue, so I want to clarify a couple of things right up front. To say that PMS is a social construction does not mean that women don’t experience it. It does not mean that “it’s all in your head.” It does not mean that your experience doesn’t exist, or is invalid in some way. Rather, the claim is that the explanatory framework surrounding this set of experiences is faulty, and that it would be more constructive to look for and attempt to address the true causes behind this phenomenon.
So, what does it mean to say that PMS is a social construction? A social construction is any contingent phenomenon that is created by a society. Social constructs exist only because the members of a society implicitly agree to behave as if they do. Generally speaking, there are conventions around social constructs that guide our behavior regarding them. The most common example used to illustrate this is paper money. Paper money would be worthless if it weren’t for our practices and conventions.
What evidence is there that PMS is a social construction? First, there’s a great deal of cultural mythology surrounding the concept of PMS that has no grounding in science. There is no identifiable hormonal cause for the symptoms of PMS. This is particularly significant when you consider how much research has been done. There is no consensus within the medical community on how to diagnose PMS, on which symptoms must be displayed, or on when in the menstrual cycle they should occur. Over 150 symptoms are attributed to PMS, many of which are experienced by men and post-menopausal women with the same frequency as menstruating women. In countries which don’t have a construct corresponding to the Western idea of PMS, women don’t report experiencing the symptoms in any pattern tied to menstruation.
Comment from Leslie
Bravo! This is so true – Women in majority world countries do not experience PMS or menopause as we do in countries where both have been made out to be a disease and another means for Big Pharma to make Big $$$$$$$ off our bodies.
“A woman’s body is the battlefield where she fights for liberation. It is through the body that oppression works, reifying her, sexualizing her, victimizing her, disabling her.”
Germaine Greer – The Whole Woman