Professor Chrisler does a fantastic job at conveying how science is used to justify and promote hostile and insane images of women. The common diagnosis of PMS shows how feeling bad translates into illness for women but not for men. I really liked how Chrisler shows how women and men will use the excuse of PMS to excuse or complain about anything that is “wrong” with women–feelings of anger, urgings for food, headaches, etc. This quote does her justice very well: “If a man has a headache, he may think of several possible reasons for it–work pressure, hunger, or too much beer last night. If a woman has a headache, she is unlikely to do so. Three weeks out of four, she’ll probably attribute her headache to her menstrual cycle.” This really points out how much pressure to feel as though there is inherently something wrong with women. I’m inclined to think that, if this is the standard for women, then really there is something inherently wrong with everyone. (Indeed wrongness is largely socially constructed as something that goes against the norm or constructed ideal.) I know that I get headaches for reasons that I can’t always explain, or have trouble concentrating, or get confused, or angry, or have urges to eat (lots and lots and lots of) sweets (as I’m sitting in my bed writing this with half a cake and a fork sitting next to me). I know that these are all “wrong” behaviors but I have the privilege to do them without being inherently wrong. One more subtle example of male privilege.
I even have the privilege of having bodily functions that our society doesn’t fear. Because male bodies are privileged there is a simultaneous attraction to and fear of the female body. I’ve heard dramatizations of the menstruation process from comics who perpetuate this fear that go something like this: “Blood gushing from a dark abyss! Pain! Pain everywhere! Crazy women!” Well, when you say it like that, it kind of does sound frightening. This no doubt contributes to the “negative feelings”, as Professor Chisler points out, that our society has about menstruation. This is, somewhat ironically paired with our hyper-sexualization of the female body. Why are we so attracted to something that is so scary? Well, for one, men are just as scary. And two, it’s another way of arranging a hierarchy that privileges men and encourages women to spend money on their appearances.
Speaking of spending money on appearances, here’s a good time to transfer our time and attention to how men contort themselves to display their dominant masculinities. I have lived most of my life very aware of the fact that a larger and more muscular body meant that I would be more respected by my peers. I have never wanted to work out enough to be considered strong. Physical strength has never been one of my life goals. I felt left out when my my male companions in high school compared their biceps or pecs but I still pursued artistic endeavors more than athletics. I did choir instead of doing a sport and was one of the few men who sang in it. So none of this article really surprises me. I think I had seen the stats on the increase in size of action figures and how much more men are spending on plastic surgery for themselves. I knew that men are silent about their health problems. I suppose what I do find interesting here is our juxtaposition of this chapter to the chapter on PMS. I think this discussion should really be put under the harsh light of capitalism. Such distorted images of women as ill and men who must be ultra-muscular are great ways for industries to make money. When was the last time that you saw a CEO of a Fortune 500 company look like one of the models it advertised with? Surely these people don’t actually think that people should look or act like what they promote. It’s all capitalist brainwashing–transforming ideas of ideal human bodies for profit.
Patrick Gallagher Landes