I listened to a discussion on BBC Breakfast this morning about the results of a recent survey, which indicated that ‘most’ women find that period pain (and other associated symptoms) affect their ability to work. It also seemed to indicate that only a very small minority felt able to discuss thus with their employers, as you might reasonably expect to do with any other health issue that might sometimes affect your ability to do your job.
I can understand why some women do not support calls for an automatic right to ‘Menstrual Leave’, for fear that it may discourage employers from hiring women. They may have a point. But a woman should be able to At least say to her employer, or colleagues: ‘I have my period, I’m in a lot of pain because of it, please cut me some slack today’, or to ask if reasonable adjustments can be made on the days when she is affected.
Why do so many feel unable to do this? I myself know if women who suffer a great deal during their period, but are reluctant even to mention it to their nearest and dearest, their female nearest and dearest, whom they must know have experienced menstruation themselves. Why the silence on a topic that affects half the population, that is, in its way, fundamental to human existence?
Nothing about menstruation is pleasant, I grant you. But who decided it was dirty? Or so revolting and shameful that it should not be mentioned? You already know the answer to that one – The Patriarchal Society.
But, it seems, not all misogyny comes from men. An astonishing amount comes from women themselves. You only have to read some of the comments below the following BBC article to see many examples of this. In fact, join any thread on social media where women are participating and you will see it.
So, it isn’t just men policing women’s behaviour, telling them what it is taboo to mention, but it’s also other women. To an extent many of us females are guilty of minor misogyny (you can hear yourself now, can’t you, saying: ‘Ooh, just look at her. I’ve got knickers that cover more than that skirt!’). But at its worst it’s a form of bullying; these women, the perpetrators, are complicit in enforcing the silence. I like to imagine them as henchmen of the patriarchy, strutting around in peaked caps and jackboots, with faces like smacked arses, looking like the female secret police from that Two Ronnies skit The Worm that Turned.
We can be discreet, but we should not be silent.