For at least two weeks out of every month, my emotions rule everything I do. If they tell me to get into a screaming row with a complete stranger, or go to bed for three days straight, it’s happening. Indeed, this is par for the course for those of us with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a hormone-driven mental illness officially classed as a disability.
PMDD affects about 5 per cent of those of us who menstruate. And PMDD makes me one of those “emotional women”. The kind of woman Kenny Shiels, manager of Northern Ireland’s women’s football team, was referring to when he blamed his team’s emotions for their recent loss to England. In his words: “I’m sure you will have noticed if you go through the patterns — when a team concedes a goal, they concede a second one in a very, very short space of time, right through the whole spectrum of the women’s game, because girls and women are more emotional than men.”
In the nineteenth century my PMDD would have had me diagnosed with “hysteria” and carted off to a lunatic asylum. In the twenty-first century, while I’m free to live outside the confines of an institution, I’m burdened with a grossly under-researched “women’s problem” that severely impacts my ability to work, socialise and take care of myself. Linking our emotions to hormonal fluctuations is often seen as regressive and sexist. When it’s only women who are labelled “hormonal” it certainly is.
The fact is, though, we’re all — regardless of gender — hormonal as hell. Over-production of testosterone can lead to aggression. Severity of fluctuations varies, of course, but there’s no denying that we’re all full of chemicals that make us animal, irrational, and from time to time, arseholes.
And yet it’s those of us who menstruate who are labelled hysterical. In the context of Shiels’s comments, it might be worth remembering when the England men’s football team lost the Euros final in 2020, it was hordes of (mostly men, if the pictures and videos are anything to go by) that had to be stopped by riot police from turning London into one massive pile of tipped-over buses and empty lager cans. The real difference between (cisgendered) men and women isn’t so much in our levels of emotion, but how we’re socialised to express ourselves. I’d be lying if I said my emotions never make me an irrational mess, but I’m expected to be open with my messiness: to let it all out. If I burst into tears and tell whoever may be on the receiving end of my PMDD wrath I’m “having a bad day”, this is seen as pretty ordinary female behaviour. A man doing the same would be breaking quite a big taboo.
Recently, after researching PMDD, my dad came to me in tears. He gave me a hug and told me he was worried about me. After briefly wondering whether I was so hormonal I’d passed my dysphoria on to my dad like mood-Covid, it was nice to be reminded that men are emotional too. Extremely emotional. They’re even, on occasion, emotional about other people’s emotions. Kenny Shiels, in fact, may have inadvertently channelled his emotions over his team’s loss into blurting out a sexist trope. There’s not much catharsis in that, I imagine. I recommend Shiels a good, hard cry.