It kind of dawned on me that what I’m about to write may be obsolete in some super-advanced mega-feminist countries but it certainly isn’t in France, so here goes…
Menstruations are practical: when you menstruate, you basically aren’t pregnant. Great.
Menstruations are also absolute shit. They can be quite messy, and they can be very painful. I for instance have quite a lengthy period every month (about 5 to 6 days) and the first two days are so painful it can get to a point where it is debilitating. I’m not saying this to get your compassion or empathy. I’m saying this to make a point: menstruations are crap. They’re shit, and they make lots of us feel like shit.
The thing is, menstruations are taboo and women and pre-op trans men are forced to deal with them as quietly and discretely as possible while staying as efficient as usual at work, regardless of how we feel. Yay.
Personally, the first two days of my period have me drained and tired and miserable. The abdominal pain can get quite severe and spread all the way down to my knees – making it hard to walk or stand – and all the way up to my breasts. Carrying any kind of load feels like hell and trying to stay calm under any amount of stress is barely possible. All I want to do is to curl up into a ball and sleep.
Yet, when this happens on a Monday (spoiler alert: it always does), I am expected to get up nice and early and teach for six hours, drive in heavy traffic for approximately one hour, and not scream at any of my 75 noisy and bustling 12-year-old students. Could you do that properly under the aforementioned circumstances? I can’t.
Yet, I get up and I try my best. And I cry out of exhaustion at break time and in the evening when I finally get home. Nobody knows this of course, so to most of my co-workers and students it basically looks like I’m having a regular-to-bad day.
So, what can I do about it? I could, of course, keep popping pills all day – a drugged-up teacher is better than an absent teacher, right? But I don’t want to do that. As I said earlier, all I really want to do on such days is sleep.
Right, so, sick leave! Nope. Unfortunately, that’s not happening anytime soon.
Think about it: all a male doctor knows is most women cope with their period and go to work anyway, so why would I need a day off? So, what if I asked a female doctor for help, one who knows my struggle and… works regardless of her painful period because she’s expected to? Hummmmm…
Like many women out there, I need a day or two off during my period: pain, exhaustion, anxiety, and just basic hygiene problems such as worrying about leakage, finding a suitable place for rinsing a moon cup or changing a pad or a tampon, and doing so soon enough to avoid getting toxic shock syndrome do not allow many of us to be efficient at work and in society in general when we are on the worst days of our period. All I need on a period Monday is a decent amount of rest, so I can do a lot better than I usually would do on a more bearable period Tuesday.
So why is it society expects women and pre-op trans men to just shut up and deal with it? I suppose the fact we make the effort to go to work when we are on our periods makes people believe they’re not as painful as I am describing them to be. Sure, the pain is different for every individual, but there is no straightforward way of proving how we feel.
I believe women should be given a two-day paid leave per month, to be used for rest and self-care during our menstruations. Some people would undoubtfully and rightfully ask for more, but the risk of course would be making women even less employable than we already are – thank you, patriarchy. In addition to a couple of days’ leave, hygienic spaces and products should be made available to women in the workplace to help us cope. We should be helped through this shitty, mandatory, repetitive, exhausting, unfair, draining and sometimes debilitating phase of every single month of a long, long, long part of our lives and not shamed into silence for it.
Shamed into silence. That’s what’s going on. We are shamed for our bodies and for this unsolicited additional feature. We are shamed into pretending it’s okay and it’s easy, into wearing dark pants only and having to carry around any products we need because it’s abnormal and graceless and unfeminine to ask anyone else for the occasional pad. We are shamed into ignoring the pain due to its recurrent and therefore habitual nature, that apparently makes it a lesser pain for some reason. Oh no, I forgot. Patriarchy.
So how do we make things better for women and pre-op trans men? We could just sit and wait until a male politician magically has his period and realises how shitty it is, but pigs don’t fly. The only other way is to spread the word and to start demanding change. Let’s do that together.