My friend Wanda shared a story on Slate today about what a woman should do if she feels so sick from her period she needs to go home and how she should tell her male bosses. The advice she received was to feign a headache or whatever is going around the office.
This bothers me because severe cramps and everything horrible that sometimes come with the menstrual cycle are legitimate medical issues that one shouldn’t be afraid to tell others about. Why is it less embarrassing to tell someone you have a headache than to say you feel so nauseous from your cramps you’re worried you might yak all over your keyboard? Or that sitting at a cubical in an uncomfortable chair is only making matters worse, and that if you could go home and work laying in bed with your heating pad (which if I am being honest, I did this morning because I felt so sick) you’d be much more productive? Because it’s bloody and between your legs and we’ve been groomed to make sure no one ever knows you’re having your period, no matter what? That somehow it makes you a weaker human being?
Everything you see above I take for my period. The transexamic acid to make the flow a little less like CARRIE. 600mg pills of ibuprofen for cramps. The gabapentin because my uterus is big and boggy and doesn’t quite fit in my body so it presses on nerves that go down my leg causing even more pain. The Percocet for when the above are not enough. The stool softener because Percocet binds you up like a motherfucker. (As do the iron pills I take — not pictured — to stave of the anemia that comes with my heavy flow.) The weed for when all of the above don’t feel like they’re helping or I’m just so incredibly anxious from the dealing with pain. It actually doesn’t help relieve the pain, but at least I stop thinking about it for a few hours. Honestly, most of the time it makes me just want to take a nap so I usually don’t even bother with it, but it’s there as a “break the glass in case of emergency” solution.
Going through all of the above does not make me weak nor does it make me a bad employee. I’ve sucked it up more times that I can count for work, but I’ve also had no shame in plugging a heating pad under my desk at the office to get through the day. I’ve looked many bosses in the eye and said, “I have to go home, my period is making me sick. I’ll work there.” No one has ever given me a hard time, I’ve never been viewed as flake and my work was always completed. I know that if month after month I had lied and said I had a headache or I needed to go to an appointment that it would have eventually undermined my credibility with my employers. Having been in the situation where people report directly to me, I know well enough when someone’s faking an illness to go do something else and I always appreciated the ones who were honest about why they had to leave the office for whatever reason. Those employees tended to be more trustworthy in the long run and were the ones who didn’t abuse the privilege of working remotely.
My point is, don’t be ashamed of what your body is going through. If women want to be considered equals in the workplace the workplace has to acknowledge that sometimes our bodies are working against us even when we are devoted to our jobs. This doesn’t make us bad employees, it makes us human employees.
Now for the humor part of my lecture.
Years ago when I still worked in an office and my Twitter feed was still locked under a Defamer-related pseudonym, I semi-live Tweeted what it was like to get my period in front of my boss in a big meeting. There is no way asking to go home because of cramps could be more embarrassing than the following tale so let my story give you strength to be honest in your own office.
That was fun. My boss is in town like four times a year and my period decided to arrive (without me noticing) in the middle of a huge mtg.
Until I STOOD UP and WHAMMO. And?!?!? Wearing shorts. So when I did stand up, some dripped down my leg ONTO THE FLOOR IN A PUDDLE. 4:41 PM Jul 14th from web
So what are you supposed to do? Stand there in a puddle of menses? Do you acknowledge it? Is this possibly worse than peeing oneself? 4:42 PM Jul 14th from web
AND YES I KNOW I OVERSHARE ON TWITTER. 4:43 PM Jul 14th from web
I am hoping he did not notice. But doubtful. Plus, we have polished concrete floors. 4:44 PM Jul 14th from web
This is why other cultures have it better. It’s your period? GO STAY IN A HUT WITH THE OTHER BLEEDERS UNTIL YOU ARE DONE 4:50 PM Jul 14th from web
Should point out once I did realize there was a small period puddle I stepped on it and moved my flip-flop around. 4:52 PM Jul 14th from web
Probably thinks I have a dirty vay-jay-jay now. 4:52 PM Jul 14th from web
You know, from the flip flop dirt mixed with period. 4:53 PM Jul 14th from web
OK I am done. Glad I horrified some of you now. 4:54 PM Jul 14th from web