The Atlantic’s Emily Matchar posed an interesting question to her readers: “Should Paid ‘Menstrual Leave’ Be a Thing?” Well, should it?
Some of you may be asking: What is this paid menstrual leave and how can I get it/why don’t I have it/why does it exist? We’re asking the same things. Paid menstrual leave is indeed a real employee benefit mandated by law in some East Asian countries. And it’s existed for quite some time now. According to the Atlantic:
Japan has had menstrual leave since just after World War II. According to the 1947 Labor Standards Law, any women suffering from painful periods or whose job might exacerbate period pain are allowed seirikyuuka (literally “physiological leave”). At the time the law was written, women were entering the workforce in record numbers, and workplaces like factories, mines, and bus stations had little by way of sanitary facilities.
Indonesia, South Korea, and the Philippines have followed in a similar suit — Taiwan recently jumping on the bandwagon as part of their 2013 Act of Gender Equality in Employment. Russia also proposed a similar draft law just last year that gives workers two days a month. The allotment given varies drastically from country to country. Taiwan gives female employees three days per year while Indonesia offers two days per month.
However, the publication notes that the number of women actually taking these days has dropped over recent years. Reasons include employers who opt to ignore these civil liberties, and employees who see the practice as dated and/or sexually discriminatory. And, as I’m seeing it, who wants to have to tell your boss it’s “that time of the month” anyway?
When a similar bill was proposed by Russian lawmaker Mikhail Degtyaryov last July, he used some choice language that raised brows. He wrote, “Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work-competence and leads to colourful expressions of emotional discomfort.”
(Colourful expressions of emotional discomfort!)
Concerns and objections regarding Degtyaryov’s proposed law echo the sentiment that these regulations can lead to discriminatory practices in the workplace. It’s a pretty valid concern that a law may lead to some businesses consciously or subconsciously refraining from hiring more female workers based on this gender-specific right. It’s also reasonable to wonder if female employees who take advantage of this law may find themselves in uncomfortable workplace dynamics with male colleagues and fellow women who opt out.
While there was some appreciation for Degtyaryov’s desire to express how physically uncomfortable it can get to his fellow male lawmakers — “the pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance,” sure, I guess? — the misguided belief that women can’t cognitively function in the workplace because they have their period is as dated as it gets. Plus, the notion that women and their lady parts may be detriments to the workplace is just plain offensive.
In fact, a 2007 study by French researcher Jean-Claude Dreher at the Cognitive Neuroscience Center and National Institute of Mental Health director Karen Berman revealed hormones like estrogen and progesterone actually increase a woman’s cognitive functions. As a women’s brain is enhanced by hormones that encourage procreation, they also experience a heightened desire to perform to succeed.
While the United States has yet to adopt any sort of legally mandated entitlement to monthly paid leave for menstruating women, it’s still food for thought. Menstrual cramps and other symptoms of PMS are a source of physical pain that can be disruptive to every day life. No matter how many times people try to convince me that men have a hormone-driven “cycle” of their own, it does not live anywhere near the same plateau of the discomfort a woman on day one of her period is dealing with. Plus, what happens to women who hit menopause? Does that right go out the window? And then do you have to disclose to your employer when you’re no longer covered by the law because you’ve gone through “the change.” Awkward.
So I want to know — What do you think of paid menstrual leave? Would you take it? Do you think it’s beneficial to women in the workplace — or do you find it oppressive, sexist, and/or even another possible outlet for employee abuse? Discuss in the comments below.