That Crime of the Month

This is part of the PRX STEM Story Project series.

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Image credit: Criminal podcast

What does it mean when a woman commits a crime and attributes her actions to PMS? We revisit the first use of the “PMS defense,” in this country, back in 1981. What have we learned about the science of PMS since then? Last year, the American Psychiatric Association classified a form of PMS (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD) as a mental disorder in the DSM-V. How can the scientific community study severe premenstrual symptoms without perpetuating the utterly unscientific idea that menstruating women aren’t mentally competent or liable for crimes they commit?

In this PRX STEM Story Project piece, the Criminal podcast tells us about the psychiatry, law, and gender politics surrounding PMDD.

About 30 years ago, lawyers started attributing behavior to PMS as a cause for women feeling so severe they were afraid of hurting themselves or others. As one would imagine, this topic can veer on the controversial, necessitating a more open conversation about the issues surrounding it.
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When asked how she chose this story idea, producer Lauren Spohrer comments, “Obviously there are a lot of crime stories out there, and a lot of media dedicated to telling those stories in various way…and this was the one that made us say, ‘Wait, what?'”

Possibly more surprising than the story content might be the way that people react to the idea. Spohrer describes her friends’ reactions upon hearing about it pre-production: “There was an awful lot of eye rolling at the suggestion of a PMS defense…it struck me that gut reactions haven’t changed much in 30 years.”

Spohrer maintains that the piece doesn’t claim to promote any singular view but rather intends to stimulate even more discussion. She says, “We hope we’ve distilled the relevant issues such that the listener feels as conflicted as we do.”

You can find this piece and more on the Criminal Podcast.

Hey, this is exciting: The world needs more successful female-hosted shows. We hope to add Criminal to Radiotopia, our network of amazing story-driven podcasts. We need to meet $400,000 for our Radiotopia Kickstarter Project to support Criminal and more. Any amount helps!

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