Paid Menstrual Leave Exists, But Here’s Why You Might Not Want It
Italian Parliament is considering implementing paid “menstrual leave,” which would require companies to allow women who experience painful periods three days off per month. The concept already exists several countries, including Japan, where it originated in 1947, and Indonesia, but if the current measure passes, Italy would become the first Western country with a policy that permits women to take off work because they have their period.
At first, the idea of getting recognition for how impossible it feels, at times, to drag yourself into the office when cramps are crushing your soul and body sounds like a dream. A 2012 study found 20 percent of women experience period pain bad enough to interfere with daily activities, which definitely includes sitting in a meeting and trying to focus when all you want to do is curl up in the fetal position.
But, like all things that seem to good to be true, there’s a potential downside, too. As women push for equality in the workplace, for equal pay and seats at the executive tables, it may be counterproductive to play into stereotypes that menstruation makes women weak.
As the only industrialized nation without mandated paid family leave, we’re a long way from any possibility of paid menstrual leave in the United States. Still, the possibility of the policy taking effect in Italy has American women debating whether or not it’s something we should hope will eventually happen here, and ways we can address real issues women face without explicitly making it
“I applaud what I understand to be the intent of the law, which is trying to ensure that women’s needs are addressed and taken into account in the workplace,” Emily Martin, General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center, told Glamour. “[But] I’m afraid that that kind of gender-specific rule has the potential to backfire and lead to discrimination,” she added.
A better solution, according to Martin, would be instituting a stronger gender-neutral policy around paid sick days that are available to all workers, which would allow women who need it to effectively take menstrual leave, without singling them out as weak or in need of special treatment—while also allowing all employees to stay home when they have the flu, which, apparently, a majority of Americans currently do not.
Sharra Vostral, associate professor of history at Purdue University and author of Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology told TIME subsidiary Motto that the fact that women menstruate was used as an excuse to keep them out of the workforce in the late 19th and early 20th century. “It was very much about maintaining segregated workspaces and keeping women second-class citizens,” he said.
In World War II, female air service pilots were prohibited from flying when they were on their periods because they might faint and crash. And of course, there’s the age-old sexist explanation for why we can’t have a female president—that she couldn’t be trusted to make rational decision while in the grips of PMS (an idea that feels so antiquated now that the idea of a rational president has gone out the window).
Do we really want to reinforce those dated views by saying that we’re unfit to work three days out of every month? It would vindicate men’s rights activists everywhere, which is good enough reason not to do just about anything, no matter how tempting it may sound.