Hey guys, I just started my period. I wanted to share that with you because it is a pretty major life event. First, my hormone levels drop. Then my body sheds a lining of my uterus, which means lots of blood and tissues are exiting my body for around 5 days. Sometimes this causes me aching pain in the form of cramps.
Usually though, I’m just really exhausted. I’m one of the lucky ones, who can still function. It’s hard to move around, and sometimes impossible to exercise. I feel less motivated, more introverted, and less inspired. This happens to me once a month, so 12 times a year. That’s approximately 60 days per year I spend tired, immobile, and in pain.
TMI? Most other women with average periods share this experience. We all deal with it, quietly. A lot of us complain about it, and wish it wasn’t happening. For most women, this is an inconvenience that doesn’t allow us to do everything we wish we could do. But it’s also an inevitability, much like eating or drinking or going to the bathroom. We must endure.
The key phrase is that our periods “don’t allow us to do everything we wish we could do.” In reality, when I’m on my period, all I want to do is rest. I don’t want to do anything. My body is yelling at me, “PLEASE LAY DOWN.” But my work schedule is yelling, “UM, NO!” So there is an inherent conflict in what my body wants vs what society wants. Society wants me to work, to be productive, and to not pause. But my body wants me to rest and eat and drink warm liquids and watch movies. Which do I choose?
Well, in order to remain gainfully employed, I must choose society’s demand for me to continue working as if nothing were different. I must live up to my typical level of productivity, and sometimes I do try extra hard to get there.
As women, we are often having to prove that we are just as productive and efficient despite natural, biological impulses that only we possess (pregnancy, periods). We have to fit our bodies into a pre-existing order that was created by men. We do this so that we can be allowed to stay there, in the man’s world. We do this so that no one will tell us to go home because we are too weak to meet the bottom line.
A lot of women eliminate this quandary by going on hormonal birth control, but for some of us that isn’t an option. Or we don’t want to. I personally don’t like how I feel when I’m taking birth control, and want to be in touch with what my body is doing and feeling. That’s just my personal choice. If I have to suck it up at work or go to an event, I will.
There’s no evidence that women are less productive during their menstrual cycles, and on the contrary workplaces with greater gender diversity are more productive. This would not cease if some adjustments were made to the male-created and dominated workplace.
We (all-gender) all have cycles of productivity. Sometimes we are super creative, ideas are flowing, and we’re solving problems left and right. Sometimes we feel tired and slow for no apparent reason. All gendered folks move through these natural cycles of doing more and doing less. This is a fact of life. Find me one person who can work at the same 100% full-throttle capacity 8 hours/day, 40 hours/week.
Data-management software company Scoro recently released an infographic detailing exactly where our time goes during the workday. Turns out we only spend about 60% of our week working. That’s 3 out of 5 productive work days
Productivity actually drops after 50 hours, according to The Economist. More hours don’t equate to quality work.
I think the time for fitting our “only human” bodies into an office-bound 40+ hour work week is over. Many companies have weekly work from home policies (Amazon, United Health, Dell, to name a few). Contract labor and part-time remote workers are the norm. It’s time American companies started instituting comprehensive leave policies to expand sick days to menstrual cycles.
Several countries have instituted menstrual leave policies, including companies in India, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia. There are mixed reviews of the efficacy and results of these policies. Needless to say they are appealing to those of us who could so dearly use a few days off to rest and recuperate from the shedding of our uterine lining.
Critics argue that such policies create a stigma in the workplace and admit that women on their periods are not fit to work. After some thought, I have to agree. A better move would be to expand traditional sick leave policies to include menstrual health, as well as mental health, family emergencies, paternal leave, etc.
A more open and comprehensive set of plans would allow us to prioritize human needs as they come up. I’d love to see menstrual and mental health rise up together as acceptable reasons for a day off. Such policies will make our society smarter, healthier, and more human.