FeminismScience

Video: Should Women Get “Menstrual Leave”?

Here’s the HuffPostLive segment.

Here’s the idiotic Breitbart article.

Here’s a good summary of research on the benefits of paid time off.

Here’s a link to Patreon, where you can support my videos.

And here’s the video (close-enough transcript follows):

The other day, I was invited onto HuffPost Live to talk about lady stuff, like Jill Abramson being let go from the New York Times, the reasons why women don’t go to the doctor often enough, and oh yeah whether we should all take a week off every month to bleed out of our vaginas in the privacy of our own homes while eating ice cream out of the carton and binge-watching Netflix.

Whether or not women should get paid time off for menstruation is apparently one of the most important questions of our time, judging by how many men have contacted me since our discussion to tell me what a giant bitch I am.

In the HuffPost chat, I pointed out that I objected to the entire premise of the question, “Should women get menstrual leave” – the question is phrased in a way to almost demand a knee-jerk “no” response, because it implies that this would be a special benefit conferred upon a small minority.

So instead I rephrase the question: Should people be allowed a sick day when they are feeling unwell enough to not be able to do their jobs? I say yes. That goes for anyone who has debilitating bleeding or cramping. If a man went to his boss and said “I’m bleeding so much that I have to change these bandages every hour or two, I have constant diarrhea, and cramping so bad that I can’t get out of the fetal position,” I would argue that that guy should go home and feel better.

So should a woman, even though the same conditions are being caused by her uterus instead of a car accident or whatever. Most women don’t have periods that interfere with their day-to-day lives on that scale, but some do.

In other words, no, we shouldn’t have a special “menstrual sick leave.” Instead, the US should join with dozens of other developed countries in providing workers with paid time off as they need it. In fact, research shows that both workers and companies benefit from allowing unlimited sick leave.

Employees with unlimited sick leave take fewer days off than those with restricted sick leave. Plus, they’re happier and more productive, which gives further benefits to their employer. Plus, it’s better for society as a whole, because workers who stay home when they’re sick are less likely to contribute to the spread of infectious diseases. When outlets like Breitbart misrepresent my argument and suggest that employers would be worse off if they gave out unlimited sick leave to their workers, remember all the studies that show that employers who offer paid sick days have lower job turnover rates, lower recruitment and training costs, lower unnecessary absenteeism, and higher productivity.

As I argued on HuffPost Live, this isn’t just a feminist issue – it’s an intersectional issue that’s more about workers’ rights than anything else. These causes have always been linked together throughout history and they continue to be linked together today. For the record, I also support paid family time off, meaning that new fathers can stay at home to take care of their kids, and both men and women can take time off to care for adults who need their help. These are relatively simple measures we can take that will increase the equality of men and women in the workplace and at home, and improve society as a whole.

Don’t be fooled by the ignorant, soundbite-focused press intent on selling the idea of ridiculous, out of control feminists attempting to force employers into giving women a week off every month. If you see that popping up in social media, do your best to redirect the conversation where it needs to be: on the science, and on the actual arguments being made by people like me who are arguing for better working conditions for everyone.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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13 Comments

  1. What, people taking a nuanced argument and oversimplifying it into a strawman in order to score cheap political points?
    Yup, that’s a job for Breitbart all right.

    The discourse is so toxic in this country that it’s impossible to have a reasonable opinion.

    1. Menstruation is also the classic “dismiss women” trope; if you are a woman, and you voice an opinion, expect someone to say you’re “just on your period”. (Curiously, nobody dismisses men as “He just has morning wood.” Also, my grandaunt was “just on her period” for complaining about undergoing a hysterectomy without her consent.) But then the question becomes why not? I remember my ex-girlfriend was diagnosed PMDD; she’d get very moody. Depressed anxious workers aren’t exactly productive.

      But beyond that, I can think of many issues. Say one of my coworkers was HIV+. Now, say I have the flu. But I don’t have any sick days left. (Heh, I said ‘left’. Isn’t that precious?) Yes, under the current policy wrt: sick days, my boss could force me to commit negligent homicide. Wonderful.

      And as Rebecca mentioned, ill workers aren’t as productive as well ones. It shouldn’t be that hard to understand.

  2. Rebecca’s perspective is spot on. You’re an adult. You know if your work is getting done. Caps on paid sick days are stupid. If someone’s abusing it, s/he isn’t gonna last long anyway.

  3. My last employer (Australia) had 7 days paid sick leave with no questions asked, after that you needed a letter from a doctor, but you still got paid sick leave. Is that what is referred to as ‘restricted sick leave’ in the article, or do you have a different system in America?

    1. I’m from the Midwest and at my job we do get paid sick leave. I can’t speak for most Americans, though. We’re allowed to have two days, after which we must produce a doctor’s note. We earn sick leave on the basis of how many hours are worked. I work forty hours a week and earn a specific number of hours of sick leave based on that. Actual sick leave and vacation time gets factored into that as well. So just because I’m on vacation doesn’t mean I earn no sick leave.

      I think I have it pretty good others have it better but it’s not unlimited.I have a non strenuous office job. But it’s not like that for everyone here. I’m one of the lowest paid type of civil servant. There are people here with more seniority and higher job descriptions than me who earn more benefits and some earn no benefits at all as they’re not members of my union. It’s entirely dependent on who you work for. My sister, otoh, has no leave at all. When she doesn’t work, she doesn’t even get paid. She doesn’t get sick leave, paid vacation time, nothing. She works about the same number of hours but gets paid much less than I do.

      We also have something here called The Family Medical Leave Act, where you are allowed to take medical leave for however long you have earned , no questions asked. I used this last year when I needed emergency surgery. I was out for a month and used up nearly all of my vacation and sick leave, but I earned it back fairly quickly, too. (Some people use this for maternity leave or a family emergencies. Most of the people at my job do not abuse it.)

  4. One thing that struck me from the Breitbart article was the following:

    Watson continued:
    “And again, what we’re talking about, really, is just simple workers’ rights. Studies show that when you give a worker unlimited sick days, compared to a restricted number of sick days, they actually take fewer sick days and they’re happier and more productive.”
    Ask employers trying to make a profit about unlimited sick days, Rebecca.

    Zuh? This confuses me. It would make more sense if it were exactly the other way around. I would imagine that the way you would counter someone saying “ask employers trying to make a profit about unlimited sick days” would be to say “studies show that when you give a worker unlimited sick days, compared to a restricted number of sick days, they actually take fewer sick days and they’re happier and more productive.” It’s almost as though this guy didn’t even read the quote he was responding to.

  5. Careful what you wish for…you just might get it.

    What is actually being asked for here? Most employers offer some version of sick time already and there are federal and state laws that cover more profound problems under the Family Medical Leave Act. My GF suffered from painful menstrual cycles and would occasionally take a day off for it under her normal sick leave policy. No biggie as far as the employer is concerned. It was never a week off every month though (she had bad endometriosis and ultimately had a hysterectomy on advice from her doctor).

    Rebecca notes that places with unlimited sick time actually see workers take fewer sick days off (makes sense). However, menstrual problems for many women is a chronic problem and not something that just happens occasionally (I know there is a continuum here from women who have no problems to debilitating and everything in between). To have a “menstrual leave” law would potentially be granting up to three months a year off for women. That is a lot and on top of other, more “usual” sick leave (e.g. coming down with the flu) and then vacation time and possibly Family Medical Leave. You could easily see a woman working less than half a year while getting paid for a full time job.

    One needs to consider the possible ramifications of such a policy:

    1) What would women need to do to “prove” they have a sufficiently bad menstrual cycle to qualify? While most women would not use it unless necessary there would doubtless be some who would take advantage of it. Where would a line be drawn?

    2) This could have a dampening effect on the hiring of women. An employer would know in the back of their head that they could end up paying a full time wage for someone working half-time or less. Employers would naturally be reluctant to hire women in such a case. That does not make them evil…if Rebecca owned a business and needed X-job done I doubt she would want to pay someone full time to do half the work (not to mention Rebecca would need to hire someone else to fill in).

    I understand it has to suck in a big way to have debilitating menstrual cycles and face that every month for ~35 years. I am not sure though how much employers should be expected to accommodate that. Men can have debilitating chronic problems too. Should they get the same consideration from employers?

    1. “Men can have debilitating chronic problems too. Should they get the same consideration from employers?”

      YES. Jesus fuck you are thick. Why did you write all those paragraphs when your last sentence shows you haven’t thought a single bit about what I said and what you’re now writing? Amazing. Go away.

      1. Seriously, Rebecca, you’d think these people would at least read your comments in the Daily Beast about MRAs before trolling you. To quote:

        “I am someone who would gladly join them in the fight against issues like male domestic abuse victims or male circumcision, if only they weren’t such horrific people.” (my emphasis)

        The problem is that MRAs are so horrific, and also apparently lack basic reading comprehension skills.

    2. 0123 – I think you made some good points. As a civil servant I earn one sick day per month. I do not see the state upping that to seven(or eight) sick days. Anecdotally speaking, I once worked at a place that had unlimited sick days but they made you feel like a d-bag every time you took even one.

  6. Seriously. And there shouldn’t be a fucking stigma attached to taking some leave if you’re on your period. There are some women who can function just as well on their period as off. There are other women who experience debilitating pain, severe mental health symptoms, and exhaustion, among many other issues.

    In Jr. High and High School, I was expected to keep functioning, even when I had pain so bad that at times, I would go into shock or pass out, when all I wanted to do was curl up and cry (or die). I was expected to act like NOTHING at all was going on, even when I was on my fourth month of bleeding so heavily that I would go through a Super Plus tampon in less than an hour, so tired that I couldn’t think clearly. It was made very clear that my job was to totally hide the fact that I was on my period–letting on at all was regarded as a failure of womanhood. And feminism. Why, if guys knew that being on my period was actually causing me difficulty, it would just reinforce their notions about how we can’t let women have responsibilities (*cue “joke” about how the President would start a nuclear war once a month) and they just go crazy because of their lady parts. Admitting that my period was debilitating would Destroy Feminism. (Some of the harshest criticism I received came from strong, feminist women that I admired.)

    Because it was related to my period, I received next to no sympathy from anyone. For symptoms that in any other context would have caused concern and care, I was told to just deal with it–and above all, HIDE that it was going on. From family members to friends to doctors and nurses, I was told that “everyone goes through this,” and I was being a drama queen, acting like a diva or princess. I can’t count the number of times I heard, “You can’t just take to your bed every month!” (While I was thinking, “Christ, if I only had to deal with this once a month, maybe I could get through it.”) People I cared about, mentors from my church, let me know that if I only accepted my “womanhood” and stopped “fighting God” everything would be okay. Or I was told that losing weight would fix it all. (Newsflash: I lost weight. It didn’t help at all.) Once, I passed out from the pain, and because I was out on a field trip, I was rushed to the hospital, where a nurse proceeded to yell at me because, “All women go through this and you just have to get used to it. If everyone acted like you, there wouldn’t be any beds left for people with real problems.” I’ve also had a (male) doctor give me an invasive exam, much of it deliberately unnecessary and painful, because–as he told the woman who had brought me in–he didn’t want me to come back again. I have so many of these stories, I could fill up 20 comments, and I’ve forgotten most of them.

    My grandma endured similar problems when she was younger, so her advice was more practical: just tie the ends of two or three super tampons together and put them all up there. Then you won’t have to leave class to change because it’ll last more than an hour! That was how she got through a days work back in the 60s, when she knew she had to be tougher than all the men working around her, or she’d lose her job, and letting on that she was menstruating would at best lead to mocking and bullying, and at worst, leave her without a job or a way to feed her kids. It’s so nice to know those times are over, right?

    It took over 10 years to be diagnosed with Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and severe Endometriosis. Even after getting a diagnosis, while I might have had more sympathy and kindness from family, it was still my task to keep it all a Secret. Now, instead of suffering through a day at school, I had to get through eight hours of work. And just like before, I was completely aware that telling my boss that I needed to go home (or even have lighter/adjusted work) because I had an ovarian cyst, or because I was on week four of heavy, painful bleeding, was just not an option. I started taking heavy-duty narcotics just to make it through the day.

    And it’s not getting better. I’m watching my 15 year old, former foster sister–who has already had two ovarian cysts rupture–go through the Exact Same Thing I went through (except, she at least has one person telling her that it’s okay to take care of yourself and fuck those who try and tell you it’s normal or that you’re just weak). This stigma has got to end. And you know what? The people who criticized me the harshest, who trained me to keep it a secret and punished me if I let on what I was going through, who mocked me, who were the most severe enforcers of the Period Rules? Other women. Many of my worst experiences have been with women “friends”, family, nurses, doctors. I’m not saying I never had negative experiences with guys, obvious I did, but women as a rule were far worse. This has got to stop. We’ve got to support each other. Even if your period is not big deal–hell, EVEN IF YOU THINK SHE’S JUST BEING A BIG OL’ LAZY DRAMA QUEEN, using her period as an “excuse”–we’ve got to stop enforcing this stigma around menstruation and the fucked up idea that any women who has a rough time and needs to take a break is weak, or is a Bad Woman who is going to Destroy Feminism. Yeah, it’d be nice if guys could get over their whole “EWWW!!” adolescent freak-outs around menstruation, but seriously: I endured a lot more from other women than from guys.

    Anyway, just wanted to get that out. Thanks for the video.

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