"Before you continue, I just have to ask, is it that time of the month?"
My mother asked me this question the other day when I was on the phone with her talking about something going on in my life. She asked this because she noticed that my voice started sounding a bit more intense and I began talking a little more passionately about the issue.
After being asked this, I responded by rolling my eyes, quickly brushing away the interjection with, "Actually, no it's not," and moving on with my story. My mom tends to ask this question a lot when I call her to talk about things that are bothering me. And when she asks, most of the time I'm not even close to getting my period. One of the most frustrating things about being a woman is that people think a straight line can be drawn from my emotional state to my menstrual cycle.
My mom is not the only one who has had this particular inquiry about my hormonal state. I can recall many times in the past when I was having a heated argument with an ex-boyfriend and he decided to drop in the "Is it that time of the month?" bomb. My brother has even wondered whether I was having my period or not during a minor disagreement about whether one TV show is better than another.
I'm not alone with this problem. Close friends have told me they hate when people ask them that, and many other women I don't know have taken to social media to air their frustration:
If you're the kind of person that asks a girl "is it that time of the month?" when she's just frustrated or upset, you're annoying.
— Lauren Taylor (@lmt_379) July 27, 2014
Its annoying when someone's like "is it that time of the month?" Just bc I'm acting differently like no mf. Shut up
— Jai (@Sooothingsista) August 19, 2014
Boy: Is it that time of the month?
Me: *Never speaks to said boy ever a-goddamn-gain*
— Kirsi M. Leminen (@LemonZestTBell) August 19, 2014
How has it always been culturally acceptable, on some level at least, to ask a woman this? Most of the time, when a man asks this question, he's just being sexist. And when a woman asks this question, she's just being patronizing.
I initially thought this gaffe must have stemmed from men's cultural education, since a woman becoming "emotional" and an exasperated husband or boyfriend replying to her with that retort is a common cultural trope. Lauren Rosewarne, the author of Periods in Pop Culture, highlights that shows like Entourage and Everybody Loves Raymond have shown male characters accusing a woman's irritability to her period. I remember confronting an ex when I was a teenager about a certain thing he was doing that was upsetting me, and his response was, "You're being overly sensitive. Are you on your period right now?"
"The period excuse" is the perfect scapegoat for men who want to avoid taking responsibility for upsetting a woman in their life, especially in a situation where the woman specifically says that the reason why she is upset it because that man has constantly been ditching plans with her to go out with his friends. But because men don't menstruate, they assume that the reason why a woman is being forceful or is upset is because she is on her period. Man or woman, asking the question is a cheap way to try and win an argument either with the woman or with the other person's self-esteem.
Sometimes, hormones are the reason for a woman's heightened emotional state. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists claim that at least 85 percent of menstruating women experience at least one symptom of PMS during their cycle.
However, the whole idea of using a woman's period as an excuse for her real emotions is lazy. It's a way of attributing negative emotions a woman is feeling to her physiology and completely ignoring the external circumstances that could be making her feel bad.
You could even say it reintroduces the dated idea of hysteria, the Victorian belief that a woman had no control of her womb and it moved around her body, causing her to have outbursts and be irritable. So, when you ask "Is it that time of the month?" it's like asking if the woman's period is some kind of demon that lives inside a woman's body, inflicting a disease called "bitchiness" that she absolutely cannot control.
Well, guess what? Sometimes we can't control our emotions even when we're not on our periods.
You almost never hear a woman ask a man if the reason why he is so "demanding" or "angry" is because of his "raging hormones." It's a rare occasion where a woman will attribute a man's negative or downtrodden attitude towards the fact that his testosterone may be out of balance, which could cause him to becomes stressed and anxious (really).
Here's the bottom line: A woman can be emotional and intense, with or without hormonal help. And, frankly, her hormones are no one's business but hers. So, the next time you feel the urge to ask a woman if it's "that time of the month," take a moment to really consider exactly why you want to know.