The whole concept of female anatomy is greatly misunderstood, especially when it comes to menstruation and hormones. Most of the time only the most basic of information is given in schools, when really, there is so much more to learn. The education system could be doing so much more to teach students about what you should expect when you are going through changes as a young person. More knowledge on this topic would help them to gain a better understanding of how their body works and what is happening to them during this strange process.
There are often certain situations in which women and (gender-non-conforming people) are not taken as seriously as men, especially when it comes to expressing strong emotions. In major sports, such as football, or rugby, for example, or in politics, when frustrated with ignorant or thoughtless questions, many men express their anger or annoyance verbally or with their body language, and people just accept it, it’s part of the job. But when it comes to a woman or (people who do not have periods) doing the exact same thing it is “oh they’re on their period” or “they’re just overreacting”. The thought process which breaks down the reasoning behind acting out of character, however, is also informed by society as a whole. Lack of education about the chemical processes of menstruation, combined with patriarchal, racist, classist, and homophobic values still upheld in much of society, means that comments like this are inevitable. This is why it is commonplace for people to assume that there is a reasonable explanation for negative behavior from men, yet when it is any other gender, people instantly assume it is because “they’re on their period”. To counteract this inevitability, more education on menstruation must be provided, and patriarchal, racist, classist, and homophobic values must be challenged.
Further, comments like this may seem like harmless little jokes, but can be detrimental to people’s mental health. When people assume why a person is acting a certain way, their feelings are essentially invalidated. While there are a lot of hormonal changes happening when menstruation is taking place, this is not always the reason for women expressing strong emotions - of course it’s not. There are a million things it could be before the list gets to periods; women are just as multifaceted as any other person, they have lives full of just as many mishaps, tragedies, difficulties, and hardships as anyone else. More than this, expressing strong emotions because your body is going through immense changes and both emotional and physical pain makes sense. We recognize that laughing at and diminishing the struggles of someone with a chronic illness, suggesting they are weak and pathetic, would be a horrible and frankly very strange thing to do. Why should this be any different for menstruation? Our request is simple and is as follows: please never make assumptions about someone being on their period if you see them acting differently than they normally would. You should talk to them, find out what is really going on, rather than just assuming. No matter who it is, I am sure they would appreciate you talking to them about the way they are feeling, regardless of the reason, and be even more grateful for your kindness.
So, what really happens during your period?
A period is the process of releasing the tissue that grew to support a possible pregnancy. It happens after each menstrual cycle in which a pregnancy does not occur, when an egg has not been fertilised or attached itself to the uterine wall. The uterus then sheds the lining which had grown to receive a fertilised egg. During menstruation, emotions are at a much higher rate than usual. This is because whilst menstruating your hormone levels are fluctuating like crazy, which may cause you to feel moody, sad, or even depressed. However, these are all normal and common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which is a side effect of being on your period. Many people share this experience, so you are not alone.
Since hormones also play a big role in the menstrual cycle, here is some more in-depth information about what they actually do.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) – This is released from the pituitary gland in the brain, and stimulates the fluid filled sacs on the ovary containing an egg/ovum, also known as ovarian follicles, so that it can mature.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) – This is also released from the pituitary gland in the brain at ovulation, and causes the rupture of the mature ovarian follicles, releasing the egg.
Estrogen – One of the female sex hormones, also known as the growing hormone, because of its role in the body. Estrogen is responsible for growing and maturing the uterine lining and matures the egg prior to ovulation. Estrogen is produced mostly by the ovaries but also in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands and in fat tissue. It is at its highest point in the first half of the menstrual cycle.
Progesterone – Another of the female sex hormones. It helps the body to balance the effects of estrogen and is often referred to as the relaxing hormone. Progesterone is produced after ovulation by the sac that the egg comes from (corpus luteum) and dominates the second half of the cycle. Progesterone’s main job is to control the buildup of the uterine lining if there is a pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, our progesterone levels fall and the lining of the uterus is shed, beginning the menstrual cycle.
Testosterone – An important sex hormone for both men and women, although women naturally have lower levels. It is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands and has a massive surge at the time of ovulation and rises just before menstruation. Testosterone helps women maintain muscle mass and bone strength, enhances sex drive, and helps with overall sense of wellbeing and zest for life.
The main reason for women’s emotions being more intense during menstruation is because of fluctuating hormones. Since testosterone is one of the main hormones to reach its peak at this time, and testosterone happens to be one of the more prominent hormones in men, it is safe to say that women act very similarly to men thanks to the hormone testosterone when they are on their period.
So now that you have a brief understanding of what people go through repeatedly on their periods, perhaps next time you will think twice before telling someone “They’re overreacting” or saying something inappropriate. More than this, hopefully reading these words and learning the real science behind what is happening throughout menstruation will encourage you to be more empathetic towards women in general. We as a community go through enough already, we do not need any added stress. It is important that we acknowledge the feelings and opinions of every gender, to ensure that they feel validated, whether they are menstruating or not. It is about time we end this stigma of making others feel less important than men.