By Christie Ma
In March, Coexist CIC, a Bristol firm, announced plans for the implementation of a “period policy,” wherein staff who menstruate would be enabled to work on a flexible schedule, taking time off during their period and making it up later. Having witnessed employees doubled over in pain yet unable to get restorative rest due to strenuously lengthy work hours, Co-Exist Director Bex Baxter declared the situation unfair, as it “cripples careers.” Along these lines, a study conducted by the makers of the painkiller Feminax found that 10% of the 600 participants were regularly bedridden by period pains, which disrupted concentration and prevented them from functioning regularly, negatively impacting their careers. In fact, up to 50% of people who menstruate experience dysmenorrhea, painful periods. In the past, the hysterectomy–the removal of the womb–has been the main treatment for heavy, painful periods, but the introduction of endometrial ablation–the removal of the lining of the womb–as well as the insertion of the Mirena hormone into the womb offer new, safer methods that have “revolutionized” the approach to heavy periods. However, the effectiveness of this new policy has been put to question. More specifically, that there has been no address of whether men, gender non-conforming, or trans people with bodies that menstruate are included in this change is tremendously problematic. I will attempt to analyze the complexities of this event through a radical and postmodernist feminist lens.
It is vital to note that the misconception that taking time off leads to the unproductivity of a business can co-exist with the encouragement of a work-life balance. This policy has been speculated to cast periods along their cramps and moods as “mysterious ailments beyond […] aspirin,” a move that could further stigmatize periods and hurt employees in the workplace. That menstrual leave “pathologizes a normal human biological function” and may be interpreted as an impression that women are “ill-equipped” for the working world and public sphere is an ironic allegation that does not lie parallel to the aims of the policy. In “Why Women need the Goddess,” Carol P. Christ speaks of the Goddess as a crucial symbol dedicated to the “affirmation of the female body and the life cycle expressed in it” (114). To what extent does this notion of decreased productivity during menstruation reinforce ideas of the menstruating body’s functions and fertility? Would it be more effective to provide tampons and painkillers to satisfy menstrual needs instead? Christ explores menstruation as a “denigration of the female body” expressed in cultural and religious taboos that deem it a “dirty secret” (114). The gendered biopower that plays into this is further distinguished by that a natural bodily function has been stigmatized and used as a tool to oppress.
That cisgender male bodies would be celebrated for what cisgender female bodies naturally do is a prime indication of the patriarchal ways that perpetuate the gender binary to the modern day. Along these lines, in “If Men could Menstruate,” Gloria Steinem advances the argument that these gendered “power justifications” regarding the use of vaginally-equipped bodies are unhealthily excluding, as well as incredibly oppressive (124). She theorizes that if cisgender men could menstruate, periods would mark the “envied beginning of manhood” and signify a “monthly purge of impurities” without which cisgender women would still be “unclean” (114). Further, Susan Bordo asserts in “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity” that “female bodies often become docile bodies,” utilizing the registers of the “useful body,” one that is socially adapted, trained, and responsive, versus the “intelligible body,” comprised of cultural conceptions and ideas of health, to investigate society’s expectations and their consequences upon women (322). The paid menstrual leave policy may actually render the menstruating body “unfit to perform activities outside its designated sphere” (326), as centering most female bodies around one of their attributes minimizes their other abilities. The spherical dichotomy of public versus private enforces the feminine “ideal” of dependency, domesticity, and delicacy (327).
Ultimately, the ways in which the new menstrual leave policy has highlighted the menstruating employee’s “unique position”, alongside further singling out their reproductive capacities are questionable in terms of both intent and impact. This is only a singular case of many examples within which gendered biopolitics exerting control over certain bodies, prove the claim that “logic has nothing to do with oppression” to be true (124).