Erasure of Pain: Primary Dysmenorrhea and Mental Health
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
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Sachdeva, N(2020, October 14). Erasure of Pain: Primary Dysmenorrhea and Mental Health. https://www.beyondblood.org/post/erasure-of-pain-primary-dysmenorrhea-and-mental-health
Historically, women’s very existence in society has been subject to impositions and control by men. Second-wave feminists have argued about the reproductive roles played by women, often with no personal choice, which reduces them to birthing and caregiving roles, delegating them a weaker status because of their biology. The confinement to the private sphere and forced caregiving has left little space for any considerations for the health of women. Women’s health issues have been downplayed by men, often scapegoated as mechanisms to reinforce gender roles in the society. The narrative created in the society that continuously presents women to be weak, physically and emotionally, has created skewed perceptions of their health issues and its treatment. Seeing this, it does not come as a shock when one analyzes the trivial status menstruation has been relegated to in the male-dominated world of medical science. Menstruation has been a taboo for centuries and continues to be so.
Mental health experiences of women have been explained by men as issues originating from and because of their different biology and hormones, rather than as a result of their lived realities and oppressive interactions with families and the patriarchal society at large. Psychiatry, again dominated by men, has maintained its biases against women, Freud’s  view of women is one such example. His idea of castration anxiety translated into penis envy for women as he continued, through his work to paint women in an inferior light, down to their reproductive functions, immorality and plagued by their repressed sexual desires.     When the female orgasm, unless achieved through vaginal stimulation, whether it was mastubration, queer sex or clitoral was considered as a masculine imbalance, women’s body have been subject to only the male perspective to be less of, to be alien and to be ignored the legitimate concerns and issues of.
The common understanding about women’s bodies and their unique and distinct processes have been largely formulated in fields almost universally dominated by men, and the impact of that is created by forming misleading narratives about women’s bodies is still felt by women. The emphasis on the notion that menstruation is an experience that is universally attached to the very identity of being a woman, and the normalisation of menstrual pain, and in some cases, the romanticization of health problems emanating from menstruation as a part of the experience of being a woman, a body meant for reproduction and endurance, are just some examples. Hence, it is clear that the domain of menstruation and mental health is riddled with obstacles of medical gaslighting and erasure of physical, mental and emotional pain. This proves worse for people who experience menstruation but do not fall into the category of “women”.  The following attempts at understanding the effects of the erasure of pain in primary dysmenorrhea on mental health.
Menstruation is considered a taboo in a number of communities and cultures. Many communities in India, for instance, consider periods as impure. Hence, menstruation has a history of being shrouded in shame. Despite decades of research confirming the physical and psychological experiences around menstruation, premenstrual and menstrual conditions, acceptance of menstruation as a process is still pushed to the private domain and treated with shame. The common consensus around menstruation clearly dictates that it is best kept out of public sight and mind, this is seen in the way menstruation is talked about in private and public spaces. At home, menstruation is not adequately addressed, all discussions from menarche to menopause are done in hushed tones, despite any experience of pain, women are expected to perform their household and caregiving roles. Discussions of menstrual cycles do not always find place between intimate partners either. Outside of the home, a series of attitudes towards hiding all signs of menstruation are normalised, for instance, sanitary pads being hidden in black plastic bags, having separate sessions on periods only for girl students in schools, restricting oneself to home remedies for menstrual pain and insufficient sharing of the emotional and psychological pain before and during periods. There has been an active discourse on how advertisements for period products shape the perception of period. In India, a woman who initially feels the intense fear of staining her clothes is seen happy and confident, hustling and achieving in bright white pants because her friend secretly handed her the best brand of sanitary pads. Pain, PMS, PCOS, and menstruators who do not fit into the conventionally looks of a woman find no place or representation.