That Time of the Month: An Excuse for Sexism All the Time

by Rachel Grate

“What’s the difference between a Woman with PMS and a Pit Bull?
Lipstick.” –

This is for every woman who, whether assertively stating an opinion or adamantly disagreeing with someone or showing the least bit of emotion or…well, really doing anything at all, has been dismissed with a simple, “Looks like someone’s on her period!”

PMS. I’ve been warned of its dangers since childhood, about how each month women turn into dangerous beings whose only capacities are whining, yelling and eating chocolate. (And to be clear, I’m discussing PMS strictly in terms of supposed emotional effects on women, not in terms of the very real physical symptoms of menstruation.)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love an excuse to eat chocolate – but that excuse isn’t worth the lack of respect my emotions and opinions are given if one even suggests that I’m on my period. (Besides, I like to think that I can eat chocolate at any time of the month, regardless of whether or not I have an “excuse” to enjoy it.)

In reality, claiming women are essentially incapable of rational thought for essentially a quarter of their reproductive lives (assuming one’s period is monthly and lasts a week) is just another underhanded way to rationalize keeping them out of positions of power.
Don’t believe me? Think back to the 2008 elections. (You may remember this quote from Miss Representation the documentary.)When Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly asked guest Marc Rudov what the downside to a woman (Hillary Clinton) in the Oval Office would be, Rudov replied, “You mean besides the PMS and the mood swings?”

Rudov later said he was joking (and that “the main problem I have is if a woman has a female agenda”, whatever that means). But PMS jokes aren’t funny when they discount a woman’s potential and intelligence. And I’ve never heard a PMS joke that doesn’t do just that. And boy, are there a lot of PMS jokes: check out the joke page I linked to above and if that doesn’t satisfy you, there are about 4,270,000 more Google results pages you can take a look at.

There’s a term for when one’s perspective is dismissed: Gaslighting. To quote Wikipedia, gaslighting “is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception.” So when a woman points out someone’s wrongdoing and they play the PMS card, they’re trying to make the woman doubt that she is able to properly assess whether or not it was wrongdoing. They are making her doubt the validity of her own perception.

There’s another part of that definition of gaslighting that needs to be addressed: “false information.” Whether or not the medical existence of emotional PMS as distinct from physical discomfort or PMDD is in question, but I personally neither have the medical expertise to make that call nor the desire to dismiss anyone’s personally experience by doing so. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that even if women do suffer from some emotional symptoms during her period, we don’t completely transform into a lipstick-wearing pit bull.

A menstruating woman doesn’t lose her rationality, just as a man with an annoying paper cut is still capable of making decisions.# So saying one is slightly grumpy because of PMS? That may be valid, though presumably no one besides the woman herself would know her cycle well enough to make that judgment. But dismissing one’s opinions because they’re ‘unstable’? That’s gaslighting, and startlingly reminiscent of the catchall “hysteria” diagnosis of the 19th century.

Disturbingly, it’s not just overtly sexist jokes or oblivious individuals misusing PMS. The June 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan claims that “PMS triggers all those annoying symptoms: bloating, bitchiness, serious junk-food cravings” and a “Brain Haze” that inhibits your ability to make decisions. Their solution? Sex or shopping. Aren’t women capable of more than that – at all times of the month?

This insistence that PMS restricts women’s intelligence is preventing women from being taken seriously. So next time someone dismisses your or another woman’s opinion with the excuse of PMS, call them out on it. Calmly request that in the future, they try to take other’s input seriously without writing it off in a “joke.” (Not to mention, nothing makes me angrier and more intent on proving my point than someone using a PMS line on me, so it’s really an ineffective method to make me shut up.)

I can’t think of any better way to end any piece of writing ever written than with a quote by Gloria Steinem:

“If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”

Rachel Grate is an intern at and a student at Scripps College, where she is studying English and Gender & Women’s Studies. Connect with her via LinkedIn.