I’m mature enough to recall the previous generation of rhetoric

Last month I had to leave work in the middle of the day. I was in a great deal of pain from my period, a problem I have had for several years. Sometimes I can manage it with painkillers, but not always. Even when I can cope with the pain, my periods affect my sleep, and make me slower and less productive. When my (female) boss saw how unwell I was, she kindly suggested I go home. I told her the next day I must be coming down with a cold. I’ve been thinking, why didn’t I just say “I have bad period pains”? I know it’s because I don’t want to be seen as weak and I don’t want to play into stereotypes that women can’t work or have important jobs because of their periods. That said, I worry about using a sick day or two every month. What are my rights in this area regarding sick leave? Should I speak up next time? Am I letting the side down by not coming out and being honest about my period?

Anon. The answer from Poppy Noor:

Something happens to you once a month that is painful and out of your control. You are not alone. Last year, YouGov asked 538 menstruators about their experiences of period pain in the workplace; 57% said it had affected their work. And yet, you feel you will be seen as weak or unreliable if you tell someone about it. Your fears aren’t unfounded: a number of studies show that women’s pain is routinely dismissed by health professionals, especially when it comes to gynaecological issues. And other women seem to share your fear. YouGov found that only 27% of women affected by period pains told their boss and many of them (33%) pretended, as you did, that it was something else affecting their work.

The question about your rights is a tricky one. You are entitled to statutory sick leave, and you could get a note from your doctor explaining that you are affected by serious pain for a day or two each month. But just because you are entitled to something doesn’t mean your boss won’t judge you: if people were given what they were entitled to without sexist ramifications, I suspect more women would be paid equally to men; wouldn’t get sacked for having children; and would be paid the same as their partners after returning to work.

It is not your responsibility to rectify a world in which women can’t freely talk about periods for fear of shame or retribution. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you are being unreasonable, either. As Mandu Reid, CEO of the Cup Effect, an organisation trying to combat period shame, says: “Having to go home for your period isn’t really any different to having to go home because of a headache – we shouldn’t have to fetishise it.”

Of course, you’ll have to get your employer, whose job it is to look after you, to see that first. Could you push for that to become a reality, for example by pushing for a responsible period policy at your place of work?

The fight is not yours alone, says Reid: “A dialogue is needed to create a future where fewer people encounter this dilemma. Those of us who don’t have period pains [or periods at all] should carry the burden as well.”

Given my richness in years that earlier rhetoric was that of course periods wouldn’t be a problem while working. What, you think women are fragile snowflakes? That women haven’t been dealing with this for millennia? Of course women won’t need any special treatment at work over periods!

24 thoughts on “I’m mature enough to recall the previous generation of rhetoric”

  1. Perhaps the pioneers in the women’s movement were of the 43% whose period pain isn’t so severe. Many of the early suffragettes were old enough that we can assume they were post-menopausal. Their younger years were, of course, occupied with child-rearing.

  2. “But just because you are entitled to something doesn’t mean your boss won’t judge you: “

    Entitlement culture writ large. They’re ‘entitled’ to everything but responsible for nothing.

    Oh, and it’s not just your boss who’s judging you love…

  3. You know, I spent 21 years in the US Navy and never have I had a single female subordinate, peer, senior ever need to take time of because of period pain.

    Or even a ‘cold’.

    I’ve had to deal with women who were single mothers, women with abusive spouses – but all of them were able to handle their periods.

    “Something happens to you once a month that is painful and out of your control.
    . . .
    And yet, you feel you will be seen as weak or unreliable if you tell someone about it. ”

    Because you are. Yes, this is out of your control. And I feel for you, I really do – but I’ve got a business to run. Yes, its not fair to you that this is happening to you. But I didn’t do it to you and its just as unfair to me to make me have to bear this burden. By shifting that burden on to me you’re not eliminating an injustice, you’re just moving it around.

    I need someone to do this job – either you do it . . . acceptably, without complaining, or you do it exceptionally – in which case I won’t have a problem with you taking off the time you need. For any reason.

  4. “I worry about using a sick day or two every month.”

    Fuck me. Really. Average 1.5 days a month? That’s 18 days a year. 3 1/2 weeks. That’s around 7.6% of the time you’re not at work when you should be. Like going home 34 minutes early every single day.

    “…you’ll have to get your employer, whose job it is to look after you…”

    Fuck me again. Is it really? I could have sworn that isn’t what most businesses pay their employees for. So they can look after them..

  5. “…you’ll have to get your employer, whose job it is to look after you…”

    Fuck me again. Is it really?

    Thanks to the Health and Safety at work act and the ever increasing infantilisation of the population, it probably is.
    Push back against being patronised and treated like an idiot, and you’re being difficult/uncaring/ a nazi / a Trump supporter…

    The times we live in…

  6. Also

    ” if people were given what they were entitled to without sexist ramifications, I suspect more women would be paid equally to men; wouldn’t get sacked for having children; and would be paid the same as their partners after returning to work.”

    someone needs to explain to me how it becoming accepted that someone takes more time off than others will lead to them earning more money…

  7. Time to revert back to the old practice of sending menstruating women beyond the city walls declaring them “unclean”. If only to remove the whining out of earshot.

  8. Unfortunately, the lady’s male colleagues will have to rally round and cover for her, as probably the sisterhood won’t.

  9. “if people were given what they were entitled to without sexist ramifications, I suspect more women would be paid equally to men”

    But women ***ARE*** paid equally to men. If you work for 20 days a month, in the same job, doing the same stuff, you are yes too paid the same as a man working for 20 days a month, in the same job, doing the same stuff.

    What Poppy *ACTUALLY* means, is demanding to be paid for doing 20 days work what a man in the same job/etc is paid for doing 23 days work.

  10. In many similar stories there is the underlying assumption that the job supposedly being done is ultimately unimportant, especially to the person supposedly doing it but also in general. The consequences of not doing the job properly never figure at all, for example

    In the days when I was still reading The Guardian website regularly there was a piece about how everyone (mainly, let’s face it, women) should be able to take their baby to work.
    From the mainly pro and a few sensible comments it became apparent that there was a big gender split.

    One lot heard the word “job” and thought of an environment which was clean, quiet and safe enough for a baby and where any distractions which the baby would inevitably cause would make no difference to the normal performance of the “job” at all.

    The other lot heard the word “job” and thought one or more of: dirty, noisy, dangerous, high-pressured, important, requiring concentration and commitment, providing a much-needed service or end product …. etc.

    I’ll leave it up to the reader’s imagination which way the clear gender split went – even in The Guardian.

  11. In most well run commercial realities that I’ve come across, what Agammamon said here:

    I need someone to do this job – either you do it . . . acceptably, without complaining, or you do it exceptionally – in which case I won’t have a problem with you taking off the time you need. For any reason.

  12. What Rob said. Also I suspect that the majority of the females working in the sort of environments JS refers to where they can bring baby to work are actually in the public sector (indeed I am sure Tim has stats to prove it) where a) their generous pensions are not taken into account for a gender pay gap analysis, b) their other benefits are suitably gynocentric and generous and c) nobody notices if they are actually ‘working’ or simply signing up to online petitions for more rights.

  13. I notice that the commenters use the totally bad word “women” as opposed to the politically correct “menstruators” as used by Poppy.

    Some men can menstruate as well you know.

    So I’m told…

  14. It’s an old theme explored in RC Sherriffs Journey’s End. Perhaps an enterprising playwright could re-set it from the trenches to Wenham Hogg’s?

  15. “Hallowed Be

    It’s an old theme explored in RC Sherriffs Journey’s End.”

    I played the sergeant in an AmDram production of that.

    Cant remember any menstruating women. Must have been in scenes I wasn’t in.

  16. “John B

    And think of the blatant gender inequality here. Men should be made to have period pains too”

    We don’t have periods or period pain.

    But we do suffer them.

  17. Bring their baby to the office? Mine is noisy enough without a fucking baby bawling it’s eyes out. Are these people real?

  18. Lots of reasons people may have temporary or short instances of pain, a broken ankle can take 6 months for swelling to go, most of us just get on with things and don’t go crying about it.

  19. @ jgh
    You are omitting the extra hours per day that most men work.
    [I said “most” because my wife has a male colleague with a small child and a wife who earns more than he is paid which is more than he earns so he works 4 days a week, always leaves on time, has first choice on holidays etc while my wife has to work dar more than stated hours to cover for him – it’s not totally male-female split but nearly all the free-riders are female and nearly all of those picking up the pieces are male]

  20. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I’ve got a bad back and a buggered rotator cuff exacerbated by sitting in front of a bloody computer for decades, and it’s all day every day rather than a couple of days a month. I do not get time off for this.

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