Body as Masculinity and PMS as an Excuse

Gina Pol

Physical appearance and body satisfaction has become a very significant factor in the lives of many men today. This is supported in Pope’s article, which included several studies that revealed the amount of men who are dissatisfied with their appearance and body. A situation that was once considered only a “women’s problem” was now becoming a man’s issue as well.

Pope discusses a variety of factors that may have contributed to men’s insecurities, which included steroid use, magazines, toys (specifically action figures), and the media. Body builders were being broadcast on television, muscular men were being featured on the cover of magazines, and action figures with huge biceps were what most young boys and men were viewing on a day-to-day basis. These images are so instilled into their minds that it leaves some men with a desire to become a “muscular man.” I enjoyed Pope’s discussion of the GI Joe action figures and the changes in body shape that the toy has gone through because I vividly remember my brother and male cousins playing with them when I was younger. One day while they were playing, I asked my cousin, “why do these have muscles, but Barbies don’t?” My cousin’s response was, “it’s because he’s stronger.” I was dissatisfied and still confused so I went on and said, “so Barbie can’t be strong because she doesn’t have muscles?” It was clear that my cousin associated strength with muscularity as well. 

Pope also mentions that the body has become a “defining feature of masculinity.” A man’s body was now a determination of how masculine he was. In addition, the media often portrayed men who have muscles as either aggressive or powerful indicating that masculinity and muscularity must have some sort of connection. These portrayals reinforced the ideas that if a man did not have muscles, then he would be assumed to be wimpy or weak. Although the article does not mention it, having muscles are seen as a feature that men would feel proud of having, but it would not be a desirable trait for women because it would make them too masculine. This hits Pope’s point that the physical built is a defining feature of masculinity and women would be too masculine if they had the same body. 

Chrisler’s article discusses PMS as a cultural-bound syndrome that can only be understood within a specific culture and symbolized based on the behavioral norms of that culture. It was interesting and surprising to know that among the 78 articles from the study, 131 different symptoms were listed just for PMS. These symptoms contributed to the views and representations of women who PMS. To me, it was very frustrating to read that PMS was often used as an excuse or the reason why women acted in inappropriate ways. It was used as a way to excuse women’s anger and raging rather than attributing madness to other factors like stress. PMS gives off the assumption that women are unstable for almost half a month and they cannot control themselves, therefore they are not fit to make decisions. By putting the blame on PMS, women will feel that this is something they have no power to change because it is their bodies. These views have even pushed women to feel negatively toward menstruation when other women in the world who do not have these cultural ideas view menstruation in a positive light.

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6 thoughts on “Body as Masculinity and PMS as an Excuse

  1. Again we see the creation of two groups of which males and females are supposed to fit into perfectly. While the male is supposed to be extremely muscular, strong, and tougher the female is supposed to be skinny, flexible, and weaker. There is no room for those that cross these lines because that would be going against society’s norms. There is a real pressure on men from all angles including the media and their peers to constantly focus on strengthening their body. For women their is the constant pressure in media through advertisements and the images of celebrities and models, to achieve an unhealthy body type.

  2. Carly Ozarowski

    I believe using PMS as an excuse for women’s feelings isn’t the only problem. I believe women’s PMS is actually also used to excuse other people’s actions. It was a way to justify why a women acts a certain way yet ignores the fact that there may have been something somebody else did that caused her to react this way. I feel that often times men are the ones using women’s PMS as an excuse for the way they may have just treated a women, instead of taking responsibility.

  3. Gina,

    You bring up such an interesting point when you ask “Can women be strong without muscles?” I’m not sure where I heard this, but someone once told me that men’s bodies are better built for lifting heavier weights for a short amount of time while women’s bodies are better built for lifting lighter weights but for a longer amount of time. I’m not sure exactly how true that is, but if it is, it gets me wondering why that skill of endurance is never acknowledged. Think of the societal expectations for motherhood. A woman, as the primary caretaker, is supposed to hold her child in her arms for hours upon hours every day, while a man is applauded for holding his child for a few minutes at a time.

    Emma Weisberg

  4. Gina,

    Your interaction with your cousin alluded to one of the points I found quite interesting in Pope’s article; that men see strength and muscularity as being masculine and therefore, not for women. Pope discussed how now that men and women are trending towards equality in the workforce (clearly not perfect equality..) men believe that one of the ‘last’ ways in which they can prove their masculinity is through having great physical strength over women. We seem to be progressing backwards in time with our men=strong and women=weak ideology.

  5. Gina,

    I really appreciate your anecdote about playing with Barbies and G.I. Joes as a child. I think we are all very familiar effect that Barbie and other forms of media have on girls and women, but I think that men and boys are largely rejected when it comes to these issues. Pope’s article discusses the fact that body dissatisfaction is much more common in men than we think it is and that this is the result of many of the same factors as it is for women. By keeping the focus on women it serves to further paint women as weak and vulnerable, while also neglecting this issue in the male population and making it seem completely abnormal, although, as we can see, it is becoming increasingly “normal” in response to the pressures of our society.

  6. Luis Ramos:

    I actually never knew what PMS meant or stood for until I heard it being used as a micro-aggression towards females who were defined as being “bitchy” or “moody”. People at school would joke around when using the term, but after looking back at, especially with more knowledge on micro-aggressions, I can totally see how it’s such a bad thing to refer someone’s “not-having-it” kind of mood to PMS.

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