Why I'll Never Take PTO

Like many '90s tweens, the first time I became aware that I could use my period as an excuse was watching Clueless. Arguing her way out of a tardy, protagonist Cher uses her period to defend herself: "I was surfing the crimson wave. I had to haul ass to the ladies'." Being the loveable, progressive that he is, her teacher, Mr. Hall forgives the punctuality faux period. And so sparked the idea in my head that my period was more like an ellipses. 

I'd come but I have the worst cramps... 

I don't want to get off my couch... 

I need to stay home from school... 

As women we've all used our periods as the reasoning to not attend certain functions or dinners, and I get it. Sometimes you don't want to chit chat about the chicken when your uterus feels like it's being ripped from your body. But skipping out on girl's night or date night is a little different from ditching work. Right? 

Not for one company in London. Coexist, an education non-profit, made the media rounds this past March when it publicly addressed its company policy that will allow female employees to take time off for their periods: PTO, or Period Time Off. 

Bex Baxter, one of Coexist’s company directors, told the Bristol Post, "I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods. Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair.” 

(Is this where I get to say: Life's not fair!?) 

She continued, “The spring section of the cycle, immediately after a period, is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual. So it is about balancing work-load in line with the natural cycles of the body."

Baxter is confident the company's new policy will increase productivity for the mostly female (there are seven males on a team of 31) staff, nor does she believe such a policy will threaten women's employability. 

There is evidence to support such a claim. One such study from the University of Bath examined the effects of period pain on fifty-two healthy adult females. The study found that greater attentional inference effects (ability to concentrate) were found when women were in the pain phase of their period, and that likewise there was a general worsening of performance. 

It’s part of a larger conversation about periods that’s dominating the www waves. 

Man Repeller broke down the period talk in a post where contributor Haley Nahman asked “Have We Reached Peak Period?” 

On the one hand, it’s refreshing that this conversation has been moved from the taboo shadows and into the streets. On the other, we have to ask: While periods are trending, are they also a reason to skip work? What happens when we prove that periods affect our concentration negatively? 

“Periods may be trending, but are they a reason to skip work?”

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This isn't a new concept. Menstrual leave began in Japan in 1947 and in other Asian nations like Taiwan and Indonesia, paid periods are already a common part of workplace culture and laws. Nike is thought to be the only worldwide company to officially include menstrual leave as part of their Code of Conduct, which they implemented in 2007. 

Considering the ongoing struggle surrounding equality in the workplace I have hard time accepting pro-period legislation as progress for women’s rights, however positioned. Periods are not a disability* and to treat them as such is debilitating to progress. Do employees who suffer from IBS get PTO? Women have fought too long and hard for equality for such measures to take the front seat.

I spoke with five women, who are all full time employees who all get monthly periods, and the consensus was that even if PTO was an option, they wouldn’t take it. Asking for period time off would just be yet another drop in hat of conversations that dominate workplace sexism, validating the claims of so many men and women who oppose the Equal Rights Amendment. Those that argue the wage gap is a myth and there’s a reason women are paid less.

Nor am I convinced that cycle awareness will help either women or men be more productive-- something that was discussed last month during a 'Pioneering Period Policy: Valuing Natural Cycles in the Workplace' seminar in the UK. 

[Related: How to Deal with Sexism in the Workplace.

It's a dialogue that reminds me of Gloria Steinam’s famous 1978 essay for Ms. Magazine, “If Men Could Menstruate.” 

“So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?” she wrote. “Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much.”

If men got their periods, there would be free Midol in the break room, PTO, and those that didn’t take it would be lauded for performing "so well!' during their “time of the month.” But that’s not the case, nor will it ever be. 

So let’s fight the bloody wage gap first. 

Let’s get paid the same dollars for the same work before we start drawing lines in the sand with our tampons. Sorry, but I don’t need my womb attuned to my 9-5 and for now I'm going to surf my crimson wave right into my office. 

"Let's fight the wage gap before we start drawing lines in the sand with our tampons."

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But maybe that’s just me. Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

*There are legitimate period-related medical conditions women face. We are not referring to these. 

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