Why do women perpetuate the myth that menstruation makes us dumber?

Why do women perpetuate the myth that menstruation makes us dumber?
Doctor in operating room
Source: Ben Fink/AP
Doctor in operating room
Source: Ben Fink/AP
opinion
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Have you ever been told that you have “period brain”? You know, the condition that arrives, say, once a month for four to seven days, and renders you completely aloof and irrational because that’s apparently what being a menstruating person does to you.

This sexist nonsense and drivel continues to be passed down from generation to generation, girlfriend to girlfriend — as even the scientist who has officially debunked it noted.

The idea that women literally cannot think straight while menstruating isn’t so much a myth perpetuated by men, but one we continue to saddle ourselves with.

“As a specialist in reproductive medicine and a psychotherapist, I deal with many women who have the impression that the menstrual cycle influences their well-being and cognitive performance,” professor Brigitte Leeners said.

In other words, women are saying this about themselves.

But new research from Leeners, at the University Hospital Zurich, showed that there is no impact to memory, judgment or the ability to pay attention to two things at a time due to the changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle.

“The hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle do not show any association with cognitive performance,” said Leeners, a specialist in reproductive medicine and the lead scientist on this study.

But this is something we knew already.

The three primary hormones at play in menstruation — estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — were hypothesized to impact the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which controls functions like logic, memory, planning, reasoning, and problem solving.

The researchers monitored 68 women in order to determine whether their cognitive functions were impaired or impacted over the course of their menstrual cycles, looking for variances in each individual’s performance over the course of their cycle and comparative differences between each person tested. It was all to no avail: Women are, it seems, just as cognitively capable as men regardless of whether we’re shedding our uterine linings at any given moment.

That said, there is assuredly a connection between our bodies and how the processes they endure make us feel. We can acknowledge that the aggravation that comes with cramps, bloating, and headaches impacts one’s ability to handle tasks. That’s entirely different from saying that periods directly impact the brain and make it harder to do its job: One can be adjusted with modern medicine; the other implies an innate flaw and fault in women that renders them, by extension, incapable of ever handling important tasks.

In a world that still makes it obnoxiously difficult for women to earn the same pay as the average man in America, the perpetuation of a myth like “period brain” gives a semblance of pseudo-scientific justification for people who want to be passively sexist instead of aggressively so.

There might, Leeners noted, be individual exceptions to these findings — but she looks forward to her research being a catalyst for reframing the way we think of menstruation and its impacts on the body.

I, however, am looking forward to something more.

Too much smart conversation about menstruation is nonexistent. Menstruation is taboo and it makes people uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to talk about especially because both men and women allow the myths about it to affect their perception of women’s basic competence. We need to learn about our bodies and we need to rely on solid research to do it, and thus start to debunk these myths that periods make us somehow lesser than men.

There’s absolutely no reason for a myth like “period brain” — aimed at diminishing and devaluing the potential of women to compete in the workplace — to be allowed to proliferate in a world with actual science at its fingertips.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Erika Nicole Kendall

Erika Nicole Kendall blogs health, wellness, and fitness at her blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss.

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