Hustle & Flow
Written by Heather Dixon // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
I'm writing this on the first day of my cycle (naturally, on a Sunday night before a long work week ahead) and fearing the woes that tomorrow will inevitably bring. I'm growing anxious as I think back to my last cycle; how I used a Sick Day to cope with the nausea, dizziness, and all-around pain I was experiencing - leaving me with only 30 hours of PTO for the remaining year. I’m also worrying about what my manager might say if I use yet another Sick Day to remedy a bodily occurrence that every other woman I know, from my coworkers to my friends, seems to have under control each month.
The menstrual taboo is something that we just can’t seem to break. In workplace culture, the unspoken rule for women seems to be this: don’t set yourself apart from your male coworkers. We’re just as strong, just as smart, and just as deserving to be in the same space with the same workloads, demands and benefits. If we miss more days, and if we ask for more assistance, all of the advances that the movement for women’s equality has strived for will immediately crumble and cease to exist.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In Italy, discussions are underway and bills are being written to mandate paid “congedo mestruale” (menstrual leave) for workers. This is not new. In many Asian countries like Japan and Indonesia, the concept has been in place since the mid to late ‘40s, and companies like Nike have also adopted it.
When news broke of the bill making its way through the Italian Parliament, many were quick to claim that this would only hurt women, create absenteeism, and stir up a hesitation for female employment in general. This is due in part to reluctance of employers to hire women and retain them after they become mothers. According to The Independent, “Women are already taking days off because of menstrual pains, but the new law would allow them to do so without using sick leaves or other permits... the demand for female employees among companies might decrease, or women could be further penalised both in terms of salary and career advancement.”
If we hop back over the pond and take a look at our own country, the period stigma is still, also, quite strong. Because the average American spends more time at our places of work than at home, we naturally navigate our everyday lives in our respective office spaces, while dealing with the curve balls our sloughing uterine linings may also be throwing at us.
Unfortunately, there are no pending bills (yet!) concerning menstrual leave stateside, but the conversation has certainly begun, and we are continuing to uncover ways to make Aunt Flo's visits more manageable in the workplace. The first step? Improving access to menstrual supplies at the office.
It might seem like something out of a Silicon Valley dream to walk into the restroom to find a cornucopia of menstrual products at your disposal, but this could soon be a reality, thanks to the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2017 (H.R. 972) proposed by Rep. Grace Meng of New York. Among other credits and exclusions, this Act would mandate that “private employers with not less than 100 employees [provide] free menstrual hygiene products for their employees”.
So what if you work for a small business with less than 100 employees? Start the conversation yourself. If this seems too dauntingly personal or embarrassing a conversation to have face-to-face, write an email, utilize anonymous comment cards, or even include the topic in your yearly review (if you have one) as a way that you'd like to see your organization improve. You (and your employer) might find it surprising that it would cost employers less than $5 per employee to provide free sanitary products annually, according to Nancy Kramer, Founder of Free the Tampons.
When employers invest in the wellbeing of their workers and take healthcare and medical essentials seriously, it not only adds incentives and encourages staff, but will appeal to, and attract, new talent.
Menstrual access is a true nonpartisan issue and a topic that anyone can (and should) advocate for. Recently, we saw Florida become one of the few states in the country to jump on the bandwagon for tax-free menstrual supplies. Starting in 2018, pads, tampons, liners, etc. will be treated like the essential sanitary products that they are, and will be exempt from taxation.
But we can’t let the progress stop here.
Whether you want the materials and chemicals used in menstrual products to be clearly labeled and specified, or for further research to be done into toxic shock syndrome (TSS,) more bills related to menstrual hygiene are coming to a legislature near you. You can make a difference. No matter what you do or where you are in your career, you can follow in the footsteps of your strong female role models - women like Rep. Grace Meng or Nancy Kramer - who are not afraid to speak up and demand action.
In a time when we’re still reeling from the high of the Women’s March and many are looking for their role in activism and in the world, this is an opportunity to be a voice for all who menstruate: female, trans-male, and gender non-conforming, both locally and globally.
The energy is flowing, and so are our menses. It’s time to stand up and become agents of change.
Heather is “that friend” who loves to bring up her menstrual cup, even when it’s the farthest thing from the topic of conversation. She's a menstrual hygiene advocate for Fierce Coast Females, and holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of North Florida.