It started with my mother. Like all other moms, she meant well when she taught me how to not to talk about my menstruation. She told me to be discreet because it’s gross.
There is some truth to what she said. It can get a little bit gross especially when you have accidents in your adolescent years. But menstrual blood is normal. Without it, procreation goes nowhere.
I don’t know how something so essential to human life is treated with such condemnation. I’m not speaking from plain experience: from the way we hid cutesy names for menstruation to the sickeningly cute packaging for sanitary pads and tampons. (Let me tell you, kids. Those flowers on the pack are far from what we feel during the worst of period pains. It’s not coming up roses.)
I’m talking out of the fact that an Olympic swimmer made headlines when she admitted that she wasn’t at her best during the competition because of her period.
It’s based also on a report about how recent research shows menstrual pain is as bad as a heart attack. People are rushed to the hospital when they have a heart attack, but women have been told to suck it up. Indeed, the reason why science hasn’t turned its attention to the pain women have been complaining about for centuries comes from sexism. The Independent writes, “Men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain. For women, the wait is 65 minutes for the same symptoms. It’s thought that this is because women are seen as exaggerating pain and being ‘dramatic’ due to sexist stereotypes, while men are listened to and believed when they express the same pain and symptoms.”
The anger women possibly feel as they read that is only as bad as the cramps. It’s also no wonder how we have a government that seems so bewildered at the idea that women need birth control pills for several hormonal diseases, and not just for taking control of their lives via planned parenthood.
On top of everything women have to go through, women are seemingly shamed for being who they are. Their problems dismissed, their physical attributes treated as weaknesses and not just incidentals of biology.
This is why menstrual leave is up for debate. A few Asian countries already grant it. In Russia, however, the proposed law met an opposition from feminists as it posited women as completely incompetent and mere slaves to hormones. It went back to the idea that women are “just hormonal” when they are on their period.
Where the law is implemented, such as Indonesia and South Korea, women are hesitant to take the leave, in fear of facing discrimination in the workplace. Though not all women experience severe menstrual cramps, a significant number of them do. But their options seem so slim. It’s in between taking a painkiller and “dealing with it” to taking the day off, suffering the judgement of those who don’t understand.
Fortune also writes that given all the issues that have hounded women, proposing such laws can add more complexity. “But asking employers to specifically accommodate women’s most mundane biological attribute—while helpful to those who suffer severe pain—seems overall like a retrograde request, especially considering how far women have come without it. Plus, these kinds of policies threaten to undermine women’s long-standing battle to discourage the notion that their natural cycle makes them weak or in any way less able.”
What then are women left with? In the fight for equality, it seems that we have forgotten equitability. Giving fair opportunity doesn’t mean giving exactly the same thing to every person. It’s about studying the disadvantages one party has to deal with and trying to find a way to amend it.
If women can’t address their medical concerns without it being used against them, where does that leave us?
Art by Dorothy Guya
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