I have never heard the words “menstrual” and “leave” together, and never thought I would.
Then a small article with big news led me to this story…
If you’ve never seen South Park, consider yourself fortunate.
It’s an American animated sitcom that debuted in 1997 and is still on the air.
So popular was the series from the get-go that just two years later the world was treated to an 81-minute movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
In that movie a male character, referring to a group of women, says,
“I just don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.”
“Bleeds for five days.”
Humor from the two male creators of South Park.
Not so humorous for the countless females who since time immemorial have suffered from their monthly menstruation.
Also known as:
There are many nicknames for menstruation – this article listed 100 of them, and all of them “adorable”:
Written by a man.
A man who apparently thinks periods are funny.
Something that no woman has thought…
There is nothing funny about an event designated with a medical term that sounds as bad as it feels:
“Dysmenorrhea causes severe and frequent cramps and pain during your period. It may be either primary or secondary.”
And there is nothing funny about an event that, even before menstruation begins, can start with premenstrual symptoms, or PMS:
And then, when the blood starts to flow, let’s thrown in some/all of these:
Note the word “normal” in the image above.
It’s considered “normal” for a female to feel this way…
For forty years.
And that list of symptoms is mostly lacking in adjectives, so I’ll offer the following:
Excruciating headaches. Killer abdominal cramps. Excessive bloating.
There are women who experience only a few of the above symptoms, and in a minor way, and their periods aren’t much more than a monthly inconvenience.
But why am I telling you all tlhis? If you’re a female, you know it. If you’re a male, you cannot, and never will, be able to imagine it.
For so many women – I’ve read estimates as high as 50-90% – symptoms can be bad, sometimes to the point of incapacitating.
And all that suffering has come with certain societal behaviors and attitudes toward menstruation, stretching back for centuries and handed down through generations:
- Suffer in silence.
- It’s a secret.
- It’s shameful, dirty, nasty.
- It’s something females must endure.
- Those symptoms are all in your mind.
- Do not ever, under any circumstances, ask your significant other to buy you feminine hygiene products.
There’s even a name for it:
Something imposed on us by others, and imposed by us on ourselves.
The article cited some examples from a survey:
- Fifty-eight percent of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were having their period.
- Forty-two percent of women have experienced period-shaming, with one in five having these feelings because of comments made by a male friend.
- Twelve percent of women have been shamed by a family member and one in ten by a classmate.
- Forty-four percent of men admit to having made a joke about or comment on a partner’s mood when she was having her period.
“Period-shame is something a lot of women feel, starting with their very first cycle, which can occur as young as eight years old. Those feelings of embarrassment and self-hate are then reinforced by society, which tells women that their bodies should be clean and tidy, and if they aren’t, that’s not something to be openly and honestly discussed. By anyone.”
Well, thanks to some legislators in Spain, plenty of people are discussing it now:
“Spain’s left-wing coalition government this week approved a draft proposal with a broad range of reproductive rights provisions, including one that would make Spain the first European country to grant workers paid ‘menstrual leave.’
“Under the plan, the government would foot the bill for women to take days off work if they are diagnosed by a doctor with severe menstrual pain. More than half of women who menstruate experience some pain for one to two days each month, with some feeling pain so acute that it keeps them from doing normal tasks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.”
The article says that “Spain’s parliament will have to debate the draft bill, in an approval process that could take months.”
Perhaps those Spanish legislators could shorten that timeline by conferring with people in other countries that already have menstrual leave in place, including some for years. Here’s an article from 2016:
- Since 1947, women in Japan have been granted menstrual leave, and in South Korea, female workers have been entitled to a day off each month since 2001.
- In 2014, Taiwan amended its legislation to grant female workers up to one day of menstrual leave a month and three of these qualify for half pay.
- Women in Indonesia are given a monthly two-day menstruation leave by law.
This last regarding Indonesia did come with this caveat:
“However, workers rarely take up this right because companies perform physical examinations on women before granting the leave.”
Not exactly an inducement to take care of yourself.
This May 19 article added to the list of countries:
“Zambia became the envy of other African countries when it passed a law in 2015 allowing women to take a day off work during their period, without giving notice or supplying a doctor’s note.”
And also noted:
“Some companies have not waited to be compelled by law to offer women menstrual leave.
“They include the Victorian Women’s Trust, an Australian gender equality agency, which offers employees 12 days of menstrual and menopause leave; Indian food delivery startup Zomato, which offers 10 days of period leave; and French cooperative La Collective, which gives staff up to one day of period leave per month.”
So menstrual leave being discussed by Spain’s Cabinet isn’t a first-of-its kind.
But I found it amazing, especially when I consider how much the topic is being discussed in our own federal and state legislatures, which is…
Unsurprising, when you remember that, according to the Department of Labor:
“Currently, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave.”
And paid sick leave at the state level – Axios used the word “spotty,” which is generous:
The Axios article noted,
“The U.S. is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave to workers.”
Advanced thinking with regards to women’s health?
Because even if menstrual leave was considered in this country, if a woman must take it as unpaid time off…
How many women can afford that?
In my research I came across this May 17 article, written by a woman, who was not enthusiastic about menstrual leave. (When you see slightly different spellings of some words, it’s because this is the United Kingdom publication):
I’m quoting her at length because she gave me a lot to think about:
“…but I find the policy horrifying. I can’t imagine anything worse for the advancement of women in the workplace than legislation that effectively creates a risk for employers in which any female candidate they hire may work 15 per cent fewer hours (based on a 40-hour work week over a four-week month) than her male colleagues.
“Women have spent years vying for equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace – to then assert that simply because we own a uterus, we need legislation to give us extra leave is deeply harmful. As a result, any employer that can’t afford to hire a candidate who may end up taking three days off a month will recruit male rather than female candidates. Ultimately, women – including those whose periods are fine – will lose out.
“Don’t mistake this for an argument that we shouldn’t take leave during our periods…But instead of focusing on women, what we really need to do is improve sick pay and make it normal to take leave for any ailment – be it period pain, back pain or colds.
“The pandemic…has taught us that dragging ourselves into work when we are sick is a terrible idea – your work suffers and you infect your colleagues – whose work then also suffers – ad infinitum. So how about this for an idea: instead of making ‘being born female’ into a condition so unhealthy it needs legislation to defend us, we take another step in the realisation that workers are not robots – and simply destigmatise ‘taking time off.’”
And this article pointed out another potential landmine:
“Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of the UGT, a leading Spanish trade union, even warned that the move could ‘stigmatize women.’
“‘In the long term, it may be one more handicap that women have in finding a job. Because we all know that on many occasions we have been asked if we are going to be mothers, something that must not be asked and that men are not asked. Will the next step be to ask us if we have period pains?’”
And speaking of men – can we fault them if some resent female colleagues getting paid time off for something most men can’t understand, and no man will never experience?
A broken arm? Understood. The flu? Understood. Cancer? Understood.
Don’t think so.
I anticipate many heated discussions about menstrual leave – now in Spain, and soon in numerous other places.
And I’ll leave that to wiser heads than mine.
Now, to end this on a somewhat lighter note…
In my research I encountered this May 15 article:
The article included this seven-minute video:
I was curious as to what the fruits and vegetables had to do with menstruation, so I watched it.
Interspersed with some no-nonsense talk from a female gynecologist, I saw an apple being painted to portray a human egg cell maturing:
The mature human egg is approached by sperm cells that looks a lot like bean sprouts:
Here are the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, with the apple-red human egg cell pinging around like a pinball:
Period pain is like a rotten pomegranate:
And if your period makes you fart more, as portrayed by this balloon…
No worries, because…
Update: OK, I didn’t end this when I said I would.
But now I will, and on a hopeful note:
Perhaps menstrual leave will be addressed in this country…
But by companies, not Congress.
According to this May 25 article:
“Nuvento, a global software company with U.S. locations in Kansas and New Jersey, recently announced that employees can take one day of menstrual leave per month. Though the policy is very new, workers have so far welcomed it.”