In both “PMS as a Culture-Bound Syndrome” and “The Rise of the Adonis Complex,” Chrisler and Pope discuss the rise of and change in discussion around two different topics, both within the same timeframe of the last thirty years. I appreciated that both authors approached these distinct issues with historical contexts, in which they explained the change beginning from the 1970s and onward. Although both readings addressed very different ideas, they analyzed them through cultural and sociological lenses.
In our class, we have focused on the social factors that differentiate men from women and how deeply engrained the ideas of femininity and masculinity are in our society. Women are supposed to act “feminine” and “lady-like,” and thus are held to certain standards and expectations. Interestingly, Chrisler argues that PMS can be a “survival strategy” that allows for women to excuse their “unfeminine” actions because of the hormonal changes they are undergoing (162). In this sense, PMS can be seen as a scientific justification and a way to restore feminine ideals of a woman who might not be acting like a “woman.” In using PMS as a justification to excuse their behavior, women are furthering a cultural stereotype about what it means to be a “woman” and are accepting the expectations and labels given to women. Chrisler explains that PMS serves to hold women back: “each time women advance, there’s someone there to remind us that we can’t go further because of our delicate health” (166). Chrisler lists numerous people and groups who benefit from the concept of PMS, the greatest beneficiary being the status quo because PMS keeps women preoccupied with their bodies and tells women to slow down so that they maintain an inferior status. This proves how psychological and socially constructed PMS is and how gendered and intentional this concept is as a way to define women against men. Chrisler ends with a paragraph on advice, in which she states, “never let someone get away with suggesting that your emotions are caused by hormones” (168). I appreciate this comment because we live in a male-dominated culture in which emotions signify instability so having emotions is seen as negative and undesirable, to the point where women feel as though they must make excuses for their emotions. On the contrary, it is men who must be encouraged to let down their stoic front and show the emotions that they suppress, in order to eradicate the connection between emotions and instability and to enhance communication and discussion of feelings, wants and needs.
I appreciated Pope’s discussion of the roots of male body obsession and the context behind the rise of male body discontent. While we as a society constantly hear references to female body ideals and unhealthy female body obsessions, men are socialized not to discuss their feelings so these very same issues have become taboo for men to discuss. As a result, nearly half of all men report their dissatisfaction with their bodies yet this goes unnoticed. To elevate the issue, men who take steroids have become the standard male body ideal despite the fact that most men and boys do not take steroids and still seek to achieve this biologically impossible ideal. We hear all about the female beauty industry and cosmetic surgery for women, but rarely acknowledge the products targeted at men. Like most everything in a capitalist society, it seems as though a myriad of industries are capitalizing on male body insecurities. Cosmetic surgery increasingly targets men and gym memberships cost a fortune but because men internalize ideal body images, they are willing to pay these absurd costs to strive to reach these ideals. Pope explains the historical context of steroids, including how they were used in World War II and in athletes soon after, essentially creating a “super” man that would otherwise be entirely unattainable. The discussion regarding GI Joe toys fascinates me because we can see the plastic bodies shifting in direct correlation with real men’s bodies. Pope equates muscularity with masculinity, quoting body image researchers who believe the ideal male body to be “powerful, strong, efficacious—even domineering and destructive” (51). No wonder male culture is so incredibly violent, because with this much strength and force, it becomes challenging to not use a great deal of power to do the simplest of tasks. While women have to find excuses to be violent and irrational, men are encouraged even in their ideal body types to assert dominance and violence in their everyday presence.