In discussing the first character in my new Seeking Strong Female Heroines series, I realized this topic was going to come up over and over. Who hasn’t heard the accusation in this blog’s title? It comes out in person in the real world much less than it is hurled at female characters, but if you’re somebody who’s said it to a woman, think about this. Would you tell a person to their face “You’re just acting irrational; you’re clinically depressed.”? Or how about, “You just eat all that candy because you’re a diabetic and your body craves it incessantly.”? Yeah, probably not.
Here’s the thing: pre-menstrual hormones affect every woman differently. Some turn into weepy messes; others never vary from their usual emotional status quo. Some women bloat and crave food; others stay rail thin and don’t need to graze beyond their usual celery stick. The fact remains, reactions like depression, mood swings, cravings, bloating are beyond a woman’s control in the actual days she’s pre-menstrual. So why would anyone belittle someone for changes within that are, basically, symptoms of a medical condition? We usually don’t, at least not those of us who are compassionate, empathetic human beings. Sometimes, sadly, it seems that when it comes to women and issues surrounding their health, the public discourse hasn’t come out of the dark ages.
Here’s another thing to think about – for most of the month, women aren’t PMSing. So who’s to say that curt response from your girlfriend, or that woman crying on the stairs, or the argument you had with your sister, weren’t just actually about real issues, not just hormones?
The simple truth is that the phrase “she’s PMSing” is ignorant and misogynistic, and it’s always inappropriate. The sad truth about the internet is that people say ignorant, misogynistic, and inappropriate things all the time, and they are protected by anonymity and often a male-dominated system that allows this type of behavior.
Sure, there are women who have made this statement about other women and about female characters. Guess what – they’re still making a misogynistic statement, and I think even less of them than the men who say it, because they, our sisters who have suffered all aspects of menstrual hell, know better. (Hey guys, think about this: your worst-ever muscle cramp happening for 24 hours, 12 times a year – and you can’t take sick leave, you can’t stop taking care of the kids or the house or take a pass on that test, you can’t even really tell people about it. Bet you’d be cranky too.)
So the time has come: I am going to take the ignorant part out of the equation when it comes to strong female heroines, especially in scifi and space opera stories like Star Wars. When people slammed Dark Journey by saying that Jaina Solo was just PMSing, they were simply uninformed. The truth is, a woman sent into battle for a special operations mission can’t be bothered with a menstrual cycle. It involves blood, methods of capturing the blood, and worse yet disposing of it. All of this creates potential pitfalls including but not limited to infection, exhaustion, and tracking of the operative. Most female warriors are in peak physical condition, and guess what – they don’t even have menstrual cycles, just like the top-grade military women and female athletes in the real world. No pre-MS, no post-MS, nada. If that isn’t the case naturally, in a high-tech society there are pharmaceutical ways to control the hormones and the menstrual cycle. Add Jedi with mastery of the Force into the equation and Jaina might be able to regulate all that on her own.
So Jaina went on a mission to hunt down the voxyn queen, and considering all the other things she had to worry about at that point, I’m absolutely positive she wasn’t getting anywhere close to risking the possibility of having to worrying about something like her period. Now doesn’t that just make the people who said “she’s PMSing” look stupid?
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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