Calling In Female

by Patrick Appel

Emily Matchar points out that “in several, mostly East Asian, countries, so-called ‘menstrual leave’ is a legally enshrined right for female workers.” She considers the appeal of such policies:

[E]ven in countries with well-intentioned menstrual leave policies, many women don’t feel comfortable taking it. They’re understandably embarrassed to tell their superiors they have their period, and they worry they’ll be viewed as weak for taking time off.

The fact is, menstruation is not debilitating for most women. But for up to 20 percent of women, period pain interferes with daily activities just as surely as a nasty cold or flu. Ample paid sick leave would seem to take care of the problem just as well without forcing women to share their lunar cycles with their bosses. It’s no coincidence that several of the countries with menstrual leave also have lackluster sick leave policies—neither Japan nor Korea mandate paid sick leave for non-serious illness.

But then again, neither does the United States. Perhaps we should start agitating for the Boxer-McConnell American Menstrual Leave Act after all?

Katy Waldman dislikes the idea:

Matchar is more fair-minded than I, weighing whether period leave amounts to “reverse sexism or a reasonable human rights move.” Does the time off have to perpetuate weird myths about our traumatic, crazy cycles—or can it just cut us some slack when we feel drained and low?

The problem is that it does both, and whether or not we deserve the extra slack (we don’t), we definitely don’t deserve the added attention to—or annoyingly reverent theorizing around—our ovaries. They will be fine! Nor is menstrual leave analogous to maternity leave, as Matchar suggests. While the first addresses a real need to care for a living person you have expelled from your body, and care for your own body out of which a living person was just expelled, the second recasts cramps and crankiness as mysterious ailments beyond the therapeutic powers of aspirin. One moment your boss is giving you days off to menstruate, the next he’s hiring a witch doctor to bless your uterus thrice upon the full moon.