A little over two weeks ago, BuzzFeed published an article detailing mens’ reactions to an English company’s new “period policy.” Coexist, a Bristol-based company, plans on allowing period leave every month. Bex, the company director, claims the new policy will help create a more productive team by tapping into natural bodily rhythms. She argues that taking time off to allow the body to recover is more productive than attempting to work through the pain and the slew of other symptoms. The BuzzFeed article, while amusing, underscored a very important point: periods are still a complicated social issue.
So far, it seems Asia has been the frontrunner when it comes to this issue. Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan all already have some type of menstrual leave policy. Detractors ask how companies can determine which employees are actually in pain and which are abusing their sick-leave privileges. While the same could be asked of people taking sick leave in general, the question proves to be a significant obstacle to the implication of period leave policies.
In a perfect world, people would be able to take time off of work whenever they are ill, regardless of what that illness is. As society stands, however, writing period leave into work laws would prove detrimental to the involvement of women in the workplace. Even though more American women, on average, tend to have earned higher degrees than men, they still lag behind men in pay. If companies compromise and allow unpaid sick leave, then women’s gross earnings will plummet even lower. That won’t necessarily be a problem, because who would want to take unpaid sick leave unless they really need to? Consider sick leave policies at NYU Shanghai’s absence policy. An absence is only excused when there is a doctor’s note, but most people wouldn’t go to the doctor for the common cold, so they suck it up and go to class (and infect everyone else. Thanks NYU for encouraging the spread of diseases). Bleeding is normal. Most (but not all) women do it, going to the doctor for it would be like going to the doctor for a cold; both afflictions will eventually run their course.
Paid period leave policies, on the other hand, could be even more injurious. Companies tend to believe that more days at work equal more productivity (though that is not necessarily true, and when it is, the margin is sometimes quite small). If menstrual leave is mandated, then women would appear to be both a loss of time and money, discouraging employers from hiring women. Of course, it is illegal in many countries to refuse to hire someone on the basis of sex or gender, but “not qualified for the position” of “ill fit for the job” provide convenient blanket excuses to keep the workplace lady-free. Pregnant women already have a hard time finding a job because companies must provide maternity leave, period leave would extend these struggles to the menstruating population at large.
There’s also a question of trans-visibility involved with menstrual leave. Though we tend to forget, men bleed too. A transman may experience all the symptoms of menstruation but may not want to expose their transgender identity. As a result, they might keep quiet, losing out on the leave that would technically be their right. Menstruation is also labeled as a “women’s issue,” which could be damaging to a transman’s identity as a male. Transmen will have to momentarily drop their male identity to admit to being afflicted by a “woman’s issue.” Of course, bigotry is also a potential problem here. Assuming a transman does admit to having periods, bosses or company owners who disagree with LGBTQ* rights would find a reason to dismiss the transmale employee.
On the surface, providing menstrual leave is a step in the direction of destigmatizing “women’s” health issues (women is in quotation marks to include other gender identities that also suffer from these issues). A closer look, however, reveals the complexity in attempting to do so. Until society prioritizes taking care of one’s health over money or bigoted ideology, companies that want to provide menstrual leave should lump it into general sick leave, which can be increased for everyone. That way, those who menstruate will have the extra days they need while avoiding the consequences of conspicuously designated “period leave.”