BODY pol­i­tics

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - HEALTH -

it seems we just can’t find a com­fort­able co-ex­is­tence for wombs and work­places. If wombs aren’t grow­ing new life, which re­sults in months off work, then they’re hold­ing the bod­ies they re­side in hostage for a few days ev­ery month, some­times forc­ing an awk­ward e-mail to the boss about ‘women’s prob­lems’. The bat­tle of the sexes in the work­place will al­ways come down to a ba­sic bi­o­log­i­cal bias: women have ovaries, which tend to do their thing of their own ac­cord. The lat­est de­bate on this front is whether women should be granted paid men­strual leave. The prac­tice is rel­a­tively com­mon­place in coun­tries like Ja­pan, Tai­wan and In­done­sia. The in­ten­tions, I sup­pose, are good: al­low­ing women a few days to let their bod­ies get on with their re­pro­duc­tive-sys­tem main­te­nance, away from their desks and diaries. But it seems a lit­tle strange to me too. The first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Why is that nec­es­sary?’ but this was swiftly re­placed by mem­o­ries of days when I was barely able to keep my­self up­right. It may be nice, I thought, to stop pre­tend­ing I’m fine when most of my at­ten­tion is fo­cused on not pass­ing out from pain. But paid men­strual leave im­plies that get­ting your pe­riod and not feel­ing well as a re­sult needs to be han­dled in a com­part­ment of its own. Just as un­avoid­able as a back­ache or mi­graine, so, too, are the nau­sea and cramps that some women ex­pe­ri­ence. You should be able to take a sick day, full stop; not a spe­cial lady one. But we are ex­pected to be com­pletely in con­trol of our bod­ies, to the point where even ac­knowl­edg­ing that your nat­u­ral bi­o­log­i­cal cy­cles are run­ning as they should is a weak­ness. If we’re not able to sim­ply carry on as usual, or pop a painkiller and pre­tend we’re fine, we are just ‘typ­i­cal’ women who can’t han­dle what makes us a woman – or hide it enough to make every­one com­fort­able. The bat­tle will not be won with a law that gives women spe­cial priv­i­leges. It will be won when you can pick up the phone and tell your col­leagues that you are tak­ing a sick day be­cause ‘I am hav­ing a ter­ri­ble pe­riod’ and that’s that.

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