The Constructed Body

Alia Roth

Although the analysis of male body obsession was upsetting and enlightening, I was particularly drawn/reactive to Joan Chrisler’s PMS: A Culture Bound Syndrome, probably because it related mostly to myself.  As someone who has struggled with hormone imbalance issues for the past seven years, this article came as a bit of a shock.  In my life, from my friends, family, loved ones – PMS has always been a way to justify my emotions, hysteria, body swelling, cramps, acne and so many other physical and emotional expressions – soon enough, of course, I was using it to justify when I was upset or bothered by something or someone.  PMS became a very quick fall back if and when those around me felt that I was acting too “outrageously” or “irrationally”.  That being said, (and as Chrisler points out), one cannot possibly understand PMS and its social context, without understanding the menstrual cycle – and no one had ever really explained that scientific function to me.

That being said, it was merely something that I used to justify my behaviors and thoughts.. but never something that I sought to remedy.  When Chrisler began writing about the efforts that women go through to “elevate” PMS, i was shocked.  Progesterone therapy which has not been approved by the FDA? Seriously? This was just so horrifying because it means that women are so intensely shamed to believe that these natural feelings and physical changes are unnatural and should cease to occur, that they go through debatably dangerous medical treatments in order to elevate these symptoms of PMS.  A hysterectomy / oophorectomy?? 

Chrisler argued that this very drastic “remedy” and “interference” with a woman’s body would not be acceptable in other cultures, but in ours it is accepted.  This also goes back to the argument of FGM versus cosmetic surgery.  Why do we condemn other cultures for have cultural practices that interfere with bodies and turn a blind eye to ours? Especially when it is something that is so natural.  How people and even doctors endorse PMS and even PMDD – which are completely constructed concepts, is troubling because it essentially states that our society is uncomfortable with women who are emotional (shocking, I know).  We have medicalized women’s emotions so that we can justify why women should NOT have power or responsibility because they are “fundamentally irrational” – specifically at this “time of the month”.  This also goes back to that media clip we watched when a male news anchor stated that “There must be some downside to having a woman president.”

Interestingly, while we box women to remain unemotional, irresponsible, and unhealthily thin, The Adonis Complex states that we are pressuring men to obsess over their muscle mass, weight control, and have the “ideal body” which is lean yet muscular.  Articles such as: 

http://mbshq.com/muscle-building-workouts/

http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2012/06/25/super-hero-muscle/

have constructed “masculine” diets and work outs in order to reenforce the importance of looking a very specific way.  These work out articles fail to comment on the intellectual, social and emotional impacts that this kind of pressure has on the person working on… Ugh, so many problems.

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4 thoughts on “The Constructed Body

  1. Carly Ozarowski

    I also thought about the ideas and notions that a women president would not be able to complete her job because she would be “too emotional” for a week each month. This is just an absurd concept, why is that people with other medical concerns are not questioned about their productivity but yet all women are questioned by a natural bodily process. I believe it is very hard, though to state that PMS is only a socially constructed cultural idea.

  2. Alia,

    I loved how you described your own response to learning about the truth behind PMS. I had a similar reaction last year when I read this article in Chrisler’s Psychology of Women class. Now when friends complain about PMS, I always have the urge to respond back with Chrisler’s arguments. When I have, it’s so interesting how people react. Even close friends will get on the defense, saying “No, no, I definitely have it. I have so many pre-menstrual changes.” And I always want to respond back saying, “That’s normal! Our human bodies aren’t always stable!!” But once they think I’m challenging their angry spouts and chocolate cravings, they won’t listen anymore.

    Something that Chrisler said has always remained in my mind: “The existence of PMS encourages women to think of themselves as unstable and potentially ill for at least half of each month. It encourages men to think of us that way, too, which limits our opportunities for self-expression and career advancement.” So, when women get angry and jump to blame their PMS, they should question, “What am I angry about?” because 99% of the time, there is a reason that is not being addressed.

    Emma Weisberg

  3. Haris Kuljancic
    I’m really really glad you brought up the point of the “male news anchor stated that “There must be some downside to having a woman president.””. I saw that many times and each time it angers me more and more. It just frustrates me that when men don’t have any other out they attack women because of something very natural. We have structured the idea of PMS as a time of month that a girl is not herself anymore and that she should be sorry for how she reacts to things and i know of people that say they are not accountable for their actions during that time of month. I understand that in a biological sense there are a lot of hormones that are being altered and cramps affect a woman many ways, however why is it that during this part of the month a person is not the same? is it the true person that comes out during this time of month or was the real person there during the three weeks that this didn’t occur?

  4. Alia,

    I agree with what you and Emma both wrote, I found it shocking to read that PMS is not as much a medical condition as it is a social construct designed to keep women down. I never once considered that PMS was anything other than a real, medical illness. I get that the article wasn’t trying to discredit the symptoms that some women do suffer, but it is unfair to say that all women suffer from an illness that makes them crazy and emotional for two weeks out of every month. Just because women’s hormones change doesn’t mean they start acting insane and are therefore incapable of handling an important job, such as being President of the US. Hopefully breaking down the construct of PMS as Chrisler suggested will lead to women being more accepted as qualified candidates for important jobs.

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