Dear Naysayers, Why Would Menstrual Leaves Defeat Feminism?
Why is one wanting to rest in bed and throw chocolates at her vagina, a sign of disrespect to feminist movements?
Ninong Ering, a Congress MP and Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, has moved a private members’ bill – ‘the Menstruation Benefit Bill, 2017’ – which has proposed that women working in the public and private sectors get two days of paid menstrual leave every month. The bill also seeks to provide better facilities for rest at the workplace during menstruation.
Ever since July 2017, when Mumbai-based media firm Cultural Machine started endorsing period leave for first day of menstruation for its female employees, out came the debates and opinions on just whether strong independent women should avail menstrual leaves or not.
Take Barkha Dutt's comments on the same, for example. For the noted journalist, the whole idea is a bit barmy because women totally live through hard working days despite periods. Women like her, for example.
She goes on to argue that women will isolate their bodies by giving a bodily routine so much importance.
Aren’t We Looking at a Capitalistic Structure?
To clarify my stance on the matter, I’m ecstatic to know that at least some working women in India have the option to avail the leave when required. To elaborate upon why I think so, let’s begin with women’s arguments against the idea.
The author of an article on The Quint, titled “Why Period Leave Is a Regressive Idea” argued:
They felt that women had fought long and hard to establish themselves as equals in the workforce (fact check: we are not – women in India earn 25% less than men according to the Monster Salary Index (MSI) on gender for 2016). And we’ve fought long and hard to ensure menstruation is not treated as a sickness.
It is true that feminists fought hard for civil liberties and workplace equality – and having come so far, getting menstrual leaves is jeopardising the equality that women fight for on a daily basis. It sends a message that women aren't strong enough and, as Barkha puts it "ghettoises" their bodies.
Question is, why is working through discomfort a commendable thing because some women like Barkha have managed a spectacularly hard job through their periods? I don’t mean to hold anybody at gun point and insist they take a leave necessarily on their periods, neither do I prescribe that a woman shouldn’t do her job in the hardest of all periods if she wants to, but should somebody want to rest in bed and throw chocolates at her vagina for all you care, why is that a sign of a woman disrespecting feminist movements?
If workplaces laud their labourers for working through sickness, depression and menstrual displeasure, then aren't we looking at a typically capitalistic structure that makes you believe that you're wronging your workplace by complaining too much – keeping male co-workers as the standard to achieve?
Of Menstrual Leave and Agency
This basically means that the capitalistic economy is still phallogocentric (long story short, the economy works by the logic of the symbolic phallus). And to have to match up to men, keeping aside the differences between male and female bodies, nightfall and menstruation, simply to look like you’re one heck of a strong rat destined to win this race in the name of Mary Wollstonecraft and Co., is doing no one any good.
Both Barkha and the author of the article argue that menstruation will be looked upon as a "problem" or "sickness" if leaves are availed for it. Such analogies only reflect on one's own insecurities on how "the other" i.e. males will look at such leaves.
What the author of the article – and several other people campaigning against menstrual leave – are forgetting, is the point of AGENCY. A menstrual leave gives the woman the agency to a take a day off if and when required during her periods. And yes, period leaves would totally be a thing if men had periods – but there’s no scope of knowing how that would go for sure, so for now, all there is left to do is to accept that women get periods, some women get deadly cramps, and yet the deserve to be equal to non-bleeders.
Even among women, there are different bodies. Some cramp up, some sail through menstruation. Yes, there are pills, some take it, some don't. Some don't have the privilege to visit doctors over menstrual cramps – if they can afford to buy a pad, it's a big enough deal. From a privileged position it is easy to quote health experts and prescribe pills, than to acknowledge that there are far more disadvantaged women who would need such a provision for a leave.
Yes, there are short comings; some people may take undue advantage of the leave by applying for it even if they don’t require it. But that is the nature of law. Just because you have anti-corruption laws in place, doesn’t mean they are upheld by everybody.
Integrity is a different debate and has much to do with the human will itself. And I'll leave that debate for some other day.
(Akanksha has finished her Masters in English Literature and is currently struggling to figure out how to deal with life and adulthood.)
(This article was first published on 18 July 2017 and is being republished from FIT’s archives.)
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