If a man had a migraine, insomnia, back ache and the feeling that someone was jabbing something—and then turning it slowly—into his lower abdomen, he would probably think, “There is no way I am going to work” and call out sick.
Give a woman these same symptoms and she would likely think, “Damn, I have my period. Let me find the ibuprofen and get ready for work.”
The differences in these reactions is depressing for women who struggle through painful periods and know that they can not let cramps, severe fatigue and other physical symptoms stop them from getting up and heading in to work. However, some companies (for now in other countries, like the UK, Japan and China) are adopting Menstrual Leave, a policy where women are allowed to take one to two days off per month because of painful periods, and it will not count against vacation or sick days.
This sounds great for women who have had to use up sick days because their periods left them unable to function.
And this sounds scary for women who do not want to have to announce to their officemates when they are menstruating or those who fear that women will be seen as weaker or less professional for needing different policies than men. Women already earn 78 cents for every dollar a man makes—do we want a policy that could encourage the wage gap with an argument that we work less, so we should make less? Amelia Costigan, director of a nonprofit organization, Catalyst, which fights for women’s rights in the workplace, called it “benevolent sexism” in an article in Self magazine.
Many others call it necessary.
Last week, the BBC ran an essay from a woman praising menstrual leave. And this week, they are still getting letters of angry disagreement or excited cheers about the policy. One woman wrote, “We are just gonna have to “man up” if we expect equality.” Another said, “Just because our grandmothers and mothers didn’t have rights or privileges for their menstrual days, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t benefit from societal advances and modern understanding!”