David M. Russell

Stop this bleeding nonsense

In Commentary on September 1, 2009 at 9:07 am

There are some topics that many people believe should be taboo. Sex, religion and politics are said to be best avoided in polite company – which doesn’t leave a whole lot to talk about! But one subject above all really is regarded by many as not fit for discussion: menstruation. This is despite the topic coming somewhat out-of-the-closet in recent years thanks to progressive advertising campaigns for tampons.

If it were just misogynist males desirous of keeping periods or PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome for any naïve blokes reading this) it might be okay, but it appears some women are keen to keep things in the closet, too.

A columnist at a major newspaper recently lamented that women should, effectively, bury the subject of periods. She claimed that women should ignore this issue and just get on with life without complaining. Her thesis was that women could not be taken seriously as potential leaders ‘of the free world’ if they admitted to succumbing to ‘the bloating, cramping anxiety, irritability and the mood swings – to name just a few of the roughly 150 symptoms that the Women’s Health Centre of Australia associates with PMS’.

Look, any reasonable person – male or female – should be forgiven for suspecting our columnist was in the throes of PMS (or completely taking the piss) for making such an inane suggestion. And even if irony was her intent, I suspect she’d now be regretting ever penning those words.

As a man who dares to consider himself a male ‘feminist’ I find this approach appalling. I do so in humble acknowledgement that I have no intrinsic understanding of menstruation and its attendant physical and emotional impacts. But as one who shares his life with women and respects them, I find it absurd to pretend that periods and all their attendant consequences simply do not exist.

Let’s face it: a certain proportion of men will never want to consider this condition – full stop, period – let alone as part of a quest for enlightenment. They can be termed misogynists without argument. But as a hopefully aware man you even wonder if using a term such as ‘condition’ might be deemed derogatory or inappropriate. As a male, even if we are sympathetic, we are often on the back foot. And, I dare to suggest, not through any real fault of our own. This is not a typical male bleat of ‘Oh, I’m not understood’. It’s a reality we have to deal with.

As someone who has been married for more than three decades I have real and practical experience of dealing with periods and PMS. But it would be a betrayal of my wife’s privacy to discuss some of my learnings so I cannot use that experience. Even so, I suspect every woman’s experience of menstruation is unique. Just as some women experience menopause without serious adverse consequences, many of their fraternity suffer truly debilitating symptoms. As a young male who lived through my mother’s stiflingly painful menopause exacerbated by recent deaths of her husband and daughter, the experience remains painfully vivid. Honestly, you would not wish it on a violent criminal offender.

Yet it is – surely – the ignorance (I was going to say mystery or mystique but they are wholly inadequate terms for this issue) that surrounds periods and PMS that creates and prolongs much of the mental rather than physical suffering associated with this phenomenon.

To suggest, however, that a medical condition which so seriously affects so many women should be swept under the carpet is, in my humble male view, madness.

If PMS is a reality for most women why should its acknowledgement stand as some insane barrier to their potential for achievement in our society? Let’s face it: men think with their dicks and that has never precluded them from high office. Indeed, in the cases of leaders such as John F Kennedy and Silvio Berlusconi, it has apparently aided and abetted their attraction.

I, for one, urge women to make PMS a cause celebre. Let’s end the mystique and mystery. It is that cloak of unknowingness that creates antipathy. That which we do not understand we tend to fear. It’s not rational but it’s no less serious because of that.

The columnist’s additional proposition that PMS should not be used as an excuse for poor behaviour caused by ill-discipline is pertinent and valid. Yet it is only if all members of society understand what is involved in PMS that actions and likely causes can be assessed. The suggestion by the columnist that periods and PMS remain secret women’s business (her actual words) is tantamount to denying men a presence at the birth of their children because it was another form of secret women’s business. We have left the Dark Ages behind in no small part because of a willingness to explore realities. The cause of female equality cannot be fully realised in secrecy, darkness and mystery. There are many men who are genuinely sympathetic and open-minded. Do not freeze us out. Do not make us a minority. That can only – inevitably – victimise women.

  1. You raised some valid points David, although I’m not sure I agree with you entirely.

    Granted, by educating men about menstruation and PMS, it would aid in understanding the uncharacteristic behaviour exhibited by most women at certain times of the month, but does increased awareness really change anything for men or women? Women are still going to experience PMS irrespective of any consciousness, and we’re still going to menstruate until nature dictates otherwise. So really, what is the purpose of making such a sensitive subject public other than to elicit sympathy from men?

    We don’t want sympathy, because the reality of the matter is, as much as men might like to think they understand, they can never fully understand what it means to endure the agony (for some) of menstruation and the anguish of PMS every month for the rest of your childbearing years. How can you expect to understand something that we, as women don’t even fully understand? How can we be expected to open about PMS when we ourselves can’t give a reason for it? PMS is not a mystery for men to try and solve so please put away your toolbox.

    Besides, a real man who has lived with any woman before be it his sister, mother, girlfriend, knows a little about periods and living with PMS so really why make it a public debate?

    While I agree that PMS should by no means be suppressed, it firmly believe it shouldn’t really be celebrated either. We don’t want a medal for PMS-induced bad behaviour nor do we want to be applauded for admitting our emotional incontinence at certain times of the month. Periods are a part of life and men should just accept it and move on. Generations of women before us endured it in silence, so why should we be an exception?

    If men really, really care to know such intimate details, well, Google it, I can assure you the advice will be the same: let it go and keep your mouth shut for a few days or until it passes.

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