In “PMS and the Biological Flaws of Womanhood,” Carol Tavris provides a scientifically-based argument that shows how hormonal studies in the 1970s and 80s did not fully explain the actual reasons for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) because there never was any evidence for this occurrence. According to her research, the hormone studies which initially introduced the idea of PMS were actually conducted to prove the physical limitations of women. During that era, women were just beginning to join the work force in large numbers, taking on responsibilities which only men had previously carried out—jobs such as working as a firewoman, police woman, doctor, and other traditionally male roles. In response to their advances, some researchers began to find reasons why women might not be suited for these positions. This was the underlying cause for advancing the idea of PMS—it was more a social construct than any biological phenomenon.
Throughout the article, Tavris lists several reasons why hormonal fluctuations in women are not any different or more debilitating than men’s cycles. Both men and women have similar symptoms throughout a month’s time: back pain, sleeplessness, and headaches (Tavris 166), to name a few. She points out detailed evidence that debunks PMS as a myth, not based on any scientific evidence or valid research studies. She also discusses possible reasons why women themselves began to blame every bout of depression or angry outburst they had on their menstrual cycles. In one way, the idea of PMS validated women by giving a name to their common symptoms; on the other hand, it also stigmatized women because every emotion they might have would be ascribed to the time of the month. Women, it turned out according to hormonal studies, were fully ruled by their bodies as men had been saying all along.
However, study after study did not turn up any real biological evidence to prove the theory of PMS. It was not a disease in any sense of the word, for the reasons could not be found. Even within the studies where women from all regions of the world participated, the researchers actually found no scientific evidence of PMS. This factor was a new piece to the puzzle which I did not realize. I learned in this article that comparison group studies showed that both men and women who participated had very little difference between the two. Men as well as women were found to have monthly hormonal fluctuations, causing changes in moods and various features of human psychological perceptions—not “all in the mind” or “all in the body” (Tavris 168), but a demonstration that the mind-body connection is real for men and women in similar ways.
There were also several research studies where women who purportedly had PMS did just as well with a placebo that alleviated their symptoms as the women who were given actual medicine. Additionally, the effects of “sloppy research” (Tavris 162) meant only that the public was left with a confusing array of supposed evidence, showing that women were unfit for many activities outside of the home. Yet this did not explain why they could handle all of their household duties, including taking care of their children effectively and attending to their needs, if they had symptoms of PMS for several days of every month.
For Carol Tavris, the answer to the biological approach encompasses a more complete human perspective; she takes all factors into consideration rather than to reduce women to biological beings. Instead, she opts to “highlight the different diagnoses that society favors” (Tavris 166) as an introductory passage for discussion between men and women. These are the conversations where the two sexes sit down together and acknowledge their similarities as human beings.
- Tavris, Carol. “PMS and the Biological Flaws of Womanhood.” In Social Problems: Readings. Ed. Ira Silver. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.