And by ‘everybody’ I mean The Atlantic and Slate, which both ran pieces late last week debating on whether or not paid menstrual leave should be a thing in North America, as it is in several Asian countries.
It is currently Shark Week at my house so, initially, the idea of paid menstrual leave — essentially an extra day (or three, depending on where you live) to ride the crimson tide from the comfort of your own bed/couch/floor — is really appealing to me right now. Other things that are appealing to me right now: lying down, sweatpants, all the wine. (I AM A BLEEDING-LADY STEREOTYPE. SEND CHOCOLATE.)
But as nice as couple days off to deal with Aunt Blood (thanks Tina Fey) would be, it’s not a good idea. Mostly because no matter how you slice it, the idea is pretty fucking sexist.
Last year, a male Russian lawmaker proposed paid time off for bloody Marys on top of regular sick days. Having zero personal experience with menstruation didn’t stop plucky old Mikhail Degtyaryov from explaining how he thinks periods work on his website by way of rationale:
During that period (of menstruation), most women experience psychological and physiological discomfort. The pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance. Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work competence and leads to colourful expressions of emotional discomfort.
By “colourful expressions of emotional discomfort” he means “TOTALLY FUCKING BATSHIT.” Because everyone knows that, once a month, women turn into incompetent, irrational, laugh-sobbing basket-cases whose brains short-circuit from cramps and chocolate cravings. That’s why ladies can’t run countries.
Menstrual leave legislation — especially the kind designed and delivered by male lawmakers — doesn’t really do much to dispel that antiquated (but still widely held) notion. As Katy Waldman notes in the Slate piece, “these policies reinforce bizarre ideas about female anatomy and fertility — like the notion that ladies ‘who don’t rest during their menses will have difficulty in childbirth later,’ or that ‘the fairer sex’ can’t function while their uterine lining sheds.”
The Atlantic diplomatically wonders if period days could “encourage more equality by accommodating female workers’ biological demands, much as maternity leave does” but I don’t see how literally pinning a scarlet letter on women in the office — or opening up the floor for men (but NOT ALL MEN) to say shit like, “Gee, maybe you should take a period day” — encourages equality. Maternity leave and period leave are not quite comparable, either; taking sick days to deal with side effects of pregnancy is perhaps more analogous.
Ultimately, what’s going on in my pants is my business and, if I have the kind of cramps that just punch Midol in the face and laugh, then I can use a plain old regular sick day without getting into detail. I don’t need a sanctioned Very Special Day for my period. If I can ride a horse and wear white pants and dance while I’m on the rag, then I can probably go to work.
And just because menstrual leave is offered doesn’t mean women take it. From The Atlantic:
Even in countries with well-intentioned menstrual leave policies, many women don’t feel comfortable taking it. They’re understandably embarrassed to tell their superiors they have their period, and they worry they’ll be viewed as weak for taking time off.
Of course, not all periods are created equal. Many women suffer from painful, debilitating conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and dysmenorrhea that do indeed interfere with day-to-day activities. Those are serious conditions and should be treated as such. We don’t need menstrual leave. What we need is sick leave — the kind that doesn’t require disclosing our cycles to our superiors.