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Should Women Get Days off Work During Their Period?

There's an ongoing debate about the merits of "menstrual leave"—basically, getting a few extra sick days for when you're on the rag.

by Arielle Pardes
Dec 5 2014, 5:07pm

Photo by Lindsay Attaway

Menstruation is one of those age-old excuses for women to get out of things: "Can I be excused from gym class? It's a 'female' thing." "I can't sleep with you tonight... I'm on my period." "Sorry I'm being such a bitch! It's that time of the month."

Old "Aunt Flow" is a great excuse to have in your back pocket, because (a) it works for almost any situation and (b) it's impossible—or at least, impolite—to verify that you're actually on your period. It's so useful, in fact, that a survey from 2012 suggested that 38 percent of women use their period as a cop-out for things they don't want to do.

It's unsurprising, then, that there's an ongoing debate about whether or not menstruation should be considered a legit excuse to get out of work. This week, Gedis Grudzinskas—a respected gynecologist in London—came out and said workplaces should offer women a paid "menstrual leave"—basically, a few extra sick days for when you're on the rag.

"Some women feel really grotty when menstruating," he said in an interview with the Daily Mail. "Coming into work is a struggle, and they feel lousy."

Coming into work is a struggle for me every day, but I'd settle for a free pass on the days I'm bleeding (or the days that I say I'm bleeding—you'll never know). As per Dr. Grudzinskas's recommendation, women would get a few days each month of "menstrual leave," sort of like getting three extra sick days. (Though he clarified that this would be separate from sick days, since menstruation "is not a sickness, after all.")

Gloria Steinem called for a similar kind of thing in 1978, when she imagined what would happen if men could menstruate (including extra research into period cramps, "to prevent monthly work loss among the powerful"). But even before that, menstrual leave was an established policy in many parts of Asia: In Japan, there's a law that requires employers to let women leave work if they are "suffering" from menstruation. In Taiwan, women get an extra three sick days per year; in Indonesia, it's an extra two days per month; in South Korea, an extra day each month. A menstrual-leave policy was also debated (and then rejected) in Russia last year, wherein one politician argued that "the pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance." That politician was a dude, by the way.

I couldn't find any statistics about women rushed to the ER because of their periods, but a study from 2012 claimed that menstrual pain is "severe enough to interfere with daily activities in up to 20 percent of women." But then again, is that because of actual pain or just the result of having a bulletproof excuse?

I can already hear the men's rights activists wailing about how women have their bloody panties in a twist and how a menstrual leave policy would be unfair. But it's also noteworthy that most of the people speaking out in favor of menstrual leave—including Dr. Grudzinskas—are men, who I'm sure haven't the faintest idea what having a period is like.

As a woman, I'll never tell. If you really knew what those few days each month were like, I wouldn't be able to use "that time of the month" as my one-way ticket out of anything.

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Tagged:
women
SEXISM
women's issues
periods
Menstruation
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Men's rights
gynecology
menstrual leave
on the rag
that time of the month
period pain