Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

PMS: patriarchal menstrual stigmas

Quinn McGuinness

The word “hysteria” comes from a misogynistic and overgeneralized female medical diagnosis. What we recognize in women today as depression, anxiety, epilepsy or menopause was disregarded and seen as “female hysteria.” Despite the modern refusal of these sexist medical practices, there is still a stigma against openly discussing women’s reproductive health.

And why wouldn’t there be? In a world built by men, the experiences of half of the population will never be understood. No male has been so impaired by uterine pain that he is bed-bound for an entire day. None of my male friends fall into deep depression for a few weeks every month. No male has ever had the stress of working through intense mood swings or a possible pregnancy while simultaneously pursuing a degree.

As a child, my school’s sexual education taught me everything I needed to know about the male body. However, as a sophomore in college, I am continuing to discover new things I was never taught about my own. One of these was a recent diagnosis of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).

I have a genuine love for academics, but it remains juxtaposed with my ambition of becoming a ballet dancer. My friends describe me as bubbly and talkative, and I have always been an emotionally temperate and level-headed person. 

About eight months ago, that started to change. I would randomly call my mom sobbing, telling her I didn’t know why I was upset but that I didn’t want to leave my bed all day. There would be weeks that I would get so socially anxious I would come home early from events with my friends. Despite how much I danced, at times I no longer felt both the feminine powerfulness and fragility that defined my love for ballet. 

I felt apathetic and empty, disconnected from a busy world that somehow continued to move around me. I was overwhelmingly sad, and some days I couldn’t get through my classes without uncontrollably crying.

On other days, I would wake up and the air would feel different. I would be strangely euphoric and like my normal self. This continued to happen for months, and during one of our desperate calls, my mom finally understood. She was a little older than I am now when she was diagnosed with PMDD. 

PMDD is a condition that causes severe hormone imbalances the two weeks prior to menstruation. In many women, it causes symptoms like severe depression, anxiety, anger, mood swings, crying spells and abdominal pain. It is entirely treatable through birth control or antidepressants. 

But most of the women I’ve talked to have never even heard about it. For a diagnosis that has provided me and other women immense relief, it remains stigmatized as another “female problem.” I knew about it because of my family history, but even the on-campus gynecologist I visited just referred me to the Counseling and Mental Health Center. 

Women can talk all day about their hormones, but it’s time for our society to finally start to take them seriously. Hormone imbalances and menstrual problems are medical issues, and they should be treated as such.

Discussing menstrual health is often avoided in academic settings. Classes that require “proof” of sickness or a doctor’s note to excuse absences systemically delegitimizes the very real reproductive issues women experience. Women fought for centuries to be taken seriously in academic and professional settings, so as a woman I feel a real reluctance to openly prioritize my menstrual health — our institutions were created by men and I refuse to give them any further reason to doubt the capability of my sex.

As women, we have allowed the acknowledgment of these issues to be sacrificed in the name of progress. It’s not normal to be bedridden from uterine cramps. Functionally impairing mood swings, cyclical depression and monthly migraines are not mere “feminine problems.” Just because our society tells us these are “normal” experiences, that doesn’t mean they are.

We shouldn’t have to silently bear these issues in an effort to minimize male discomfort. 

What we should do is show ourselves love and recognize when to ask for help. Both our natural female bodies and the medications we take can cause us to experience impaired medical and mental health problems. As students, it is more important than ever to nurture our bodies through what is an incredibly exciting and stressful time. Just because men don’t share women’s experiences doesn’t mean our society should continue to apologize for the existence of the female body.

Lack is a dance and Plan II sophomore from San Angelo, Texas. 

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