I strut out of the conference room sporting a satisfied smirk. New city, new job, and I’ve just landed my first big pitch. I muse on the mountains of red tape and revisions ahead as my sensible heels click-clack back to my desk. Minutes into the post-pitch glow, I feel another kind of glow, — er, burn — twisting my uterus into a tightly wound knot. I’m instantaneously aware that today’s productivity hinges upon the Midol, heating pad, and homeopathic maca root remedy waiting at home in my medicine cabinet. Alas, my new job comes complete with a fresh-pressed male editor. The concept of confronting this Brooks Brothers poster child with intimate details about my uterus doesn’t seem appealing. Furthermore, I’m not itching to be the girl who’s constantly out of office with ‘food poisoning’. (No one could be fooled into thinking I eat seafood on my salary anyway.) Once again, I’m in a bind, and it’s about to get bloody.
There are over 1.2 billion women employed worldwide, and on any given day, 800 million of them have their period. This means that nearly half of the global workforce is subject to shame and anxiety once a month as they’re forced to address a bodily function society has deemed taboo. 86% of women in the U.S. say that they’ve been struck with their period unexpectedly, unarmed with the necessary supplies. Most offices, factories, restaurants etc. don’t supply feminine products to employees. Probably why we can all say we’ve utilized the toilet-paper-wad as a makeshift period care product, right? Even if your work restroom does have a pad or tampon dispenser, only 8% of women say that these dispensers are consistently stocked and operational. Access to menstrual supplies becomes increasingly scarce on an international scale. In low and middle-income countries, many women are still fighting for access to clean water and private, safe bathrooms in their places of work, let alone pads and tampons.
Supply logistics aside, cramps can be more paralyzing than any toilet-paper-wad. Studies show that 1 in 10 women regularly experience period pain so debilitating they’re unable to carry out their usual daily tasks. In the public sphere, this pain is often silenced. After taking a survey of urban professionals, I found that 51% only feel comfortable discussing periods among close friends and family. While there was no written law preventing me from talking to my editor about my cramps, I just couldn’t, and nearly 63% of professionals agree; discussing menstruation in the workplace isn’t quite kosher, especially if it’s a mixed-gender conversation.
The inability to openly discuss menstruation often forces women to show up to work enduring levels of pain and discomfort which, under any other circumstances, would warrant the day off. Society reduces periods to a mere week of moodiness and avoidance of white jeans while pain is often erased from the menstrual narrative. Women who stay home with their period fear being labeled ‘weak’ or ‘over-dramatic’. These fears aren’t unwarranted: 48% of the professionals I surveyed felt as though missing work due to one’s period is far less legitimate than staying home with the flu.
Thankfully, there are communities across the globe rebuffing the crimson stigma. By law, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and Taiwan all afford working women some form of menstrual leave apart from common sick leave. Western nations and private companies, however, have been slow to jump on the red wagon. In 2007, Nike integrated a menstrual leave policy into their code of conduct. Most recently, the British interest firm Coexist made headlines as the first company in the UK with an official period policy. It allows employees to leave the office unquestioned if menstrual pains strike. While the number of companies willing to commit to menstrual leave policies are few and far between, workplaces across the globe are beginning to provide pads and tampons free of charge thanks to organizations like Free the Tampons which advocate in the public policy arena, and directly with business owners.
Pushing employers for menstrual leave and supplies is a double edged sword. While women across the globe are eager to see their pain legitimized, they’re also fearful of contributing to a culture which stereotypes menstruating individuals as less capable. Thankfully, the men and women who took my survey give me hope: nearly 82% wouldn’t question a woman’s quality of work if they knew she was on her period.
I’m not asking for period privilege, what I’m asking for is an open dialogue. Menstruating women are equally entitled to feel pain; pain that is no more or less legitimate than that of their male coworkers. We shouldn’t be cornered into shoving a wad of toilet paper between our legs. We shouldn’t feel compelled to silence our medical concerns. Most of all, we shouldn’t have to make any excuses, because, eventually, my coworkers are bound to realize that I get ‘food poisoning’ on the 14th of every month.
Melina Vitucci is a writer, foodie, & content creator living in Brooklyn, NY. She's typically behind her laptop typing up a storm on women's issues, sustainable ag, or really good creme brûlée. In her spare time, she enjoys lurking craigslist for midcentury furniture and breaking up catfights. (She has two cats.)
Photo Credit: https://blogs.consumerhealthdigest.com