Is menstrual leave really such a great idea?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since my Facebook pals went crazy, raving about this article:

A Bristol company is introducing menstrual leave.  During their period, women may not be in a fit state to work, and should be allowed time off.  But it works better for companies too, as you’re “synchronising” with your employees, and so will get more from them when they are feeling productive.

I understand why people are raving about this.  Especially those of us who have only ever worked in male-dominated offices, a true understanding that certain times of the month can be crap, sounds good on the surface.

But right from the first read, I have a bit of a problem with this.  My biggest problem is that periods are normal.  We don’t need to be excluded from general population when we’re having a period.  It might be coming from a friendly place, but you’re saying exactly the same thing as those men that say women are unclean and need to be locked up during their period.

Then there’s the subtler messages this is sending.  In offices up and down the country, still when women get justifiably angry about something, it’s often greeted with an eye roll and a dismissal with “is it that time of the month?”.  So an employer actually coming out and saying that women should go home when they’re having their period, hardly helpful.  Again, this particular (female) employer isn’t saying it in this way, but the underlying message is the same.  Women aren’t as effective during their period, won’t contribute as much.  And as it should be quite hard to tell when a woman’s having her period, this pretty much means they’re not as effective and should be treated with suspicion, just in case.

We’ve fought really hard, for many years, to get to a place where legally, we now talk about “parental leave” not “maternity leave”.  And one of the drivers for this, has been that many companies routinely discriminate against all women of child-bearing age in order to avoid paying for maternity leave.  Introducing another reason why women need time off, will contribute to this further.  A forward-thinking company promoting this, will give further excuse to the patriarchal companies that nod along and say “well yes, I’ve always thought that women aren’t really cut out for office life”.  Women are perfectly capable of functioning in the work place – whatever the time of the month.  I’m not a slave to my hormones.

Perhaps I’m over-simplifying here.  I’m lucky that – thanks to lots of medication for many years, and finally a great IUD – I’m not doubled over in pain every month.  I do understand that some women are – but that doesn’t mean that every woman is.  Treating serious period problems as health issues – both recognised by Doctors and employers – would be a great idea, and a campaign I’d get behind.  But that’s not the same argument as saying that all female employees need special treatment.

And however well intentioned you are, asking if it’s that time of the month, is not something I want to hear in the office.


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