Jane Ussher: Premenstrual Syndrome & Self-policing

Michel Foucault described self-policing as the modern replacement for external,
authoritarian, methods of surveillance and social regulation. Today, discipline is
instilled within, and punishment, if we waver from the norm, self-induced. This
paper identifies self-policing practices in relation to the experience and
construction of ‘premenstrual syndrome’ (PMS). Drawing on in-depth interviews
with 36 British and 34 Australian women, it is argued that women’s experience of
distress or anger premenstrually, their positioning of this experience as pathology,
and their self-positioning as a ‘PMS sufferer’, is connected to the self-policing
practices of self-silencing, self-surveillance, over-responsibility, self-blame, and
self-sacrifice. This is closely associated with hegemonic constructions of idealized
femininity: the positioning of women as emotional nurturers of others,
necessitating self-renunciation; the juxtaposition of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ woman;
and the positioning of woman as closer to nature, with subjectivity tied to
the body. Premenstrually, a rupture in self-silencing occurs, yet this is followed by
increased self-surveillance, leading to guilt, shame, and blaming of the body.
Identifying self-policing practices allows women to develop more empowering
strategies for reducing or preventing premenstrual distress, developing an ethic
of care for the self, and no longer blaming the body for premenstrual anger
or depression.
Social Theory & Health (2004) 2, 254–272. doi:10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700032


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