The burning debates on social media around period leave at corporate setups have sparked another offshoot of discussion that often goes undiscussed – that of women trying to fit in at workplaces by assuming a strong, masculine front. For years, women in professional fields like journalism, armed forces, multinationals that were originally seen as domains of men, had to resort to odd tricks and techniques to be seen at par with their male colleagues. The question to be asked now is – Why? Why should working women feel the need to camouflage their identities, disown their feminity, just so that they’re not discriminated against?
The debate around period leaves is a major factor in this entire conversation. A lot of women, including journalist Barkha Dutt, feel that granting menstrual leave to women/transpersons will disadvantage them in the fight for gender equality. She recently tweeted that period leave is “exactly what ghettoizes women and strengthens biological determinism. We cannot want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no exceptionalism and want period leave.”
With Changing Gender Roles, Shouldn’t Offices Become Female-Friendly?
This is a fairly flawed argument that can be broken down on many levels. Firstly, taking an off day once a month is by no means a valid ground for categorising any gender – male, female, queer – as the “weaker sex.” Moreover, setting apart a special box of ‘period leaves’ in professional fields will help in sensitising and educating employees (especially non-menstruators) as to the supposedly “taboo” concept of periods, something that the regular a ‘sick leave’ box just won’t be able to cut.
Additionally, most traditional offices, by design and culture, have been constructed in a way so they primarily suit the needs of men since the longstanding norm has been of looking at men as office-going breadwinners and women as docile homemakers. With these gender roles now changing, don’t office cultures need to adapt to the needs of women who go to work? And not the other way round, with women sacrificing their bodily requirements to fit themselves into a cutthroat field?
Why Should A Woman Have To Pretend She Is Not A Woman?
In March this year, Businessworld, as per a 2019 Deloitte Report, stated that “there has been a decline in the female labour force participation in India, falling from 36.7 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2018.” This is a highly worrisome trend, contributed to in large part by the gender bias that still exists for girl children and women in education and nutrition, as well as job inflexibility and workplace harassment. In this already disappointing scenario, shouldn’t professions work towards making the work environment more female-friendly so that women are encouraged to participate?
But the fight for feminism and the inclusivity of women into the mainstream does not mean giving up on certain experiences of being a woman. Yes, male and female bodies are built differently and have different needs – it’s high time everyone appreciates this fact. And something like a period leave, for women who choose to avail it, will encourage that. After all, why should a female employee pop a painkiller and “simply power through” a workday on her period while pretending that everything is fine?
Period Leave Is Not A Special Favour, It Is A Basic Right
Why should a woman running a company feel the need to wear a “power pantsuit” to appear dominating in a boardroom full of men? Or keep short hair (if she doesn’t want to) only so that her bosses are convinced that she is highly focused on work and not “overtly, feminine” stuff like beauty or looks? Should men be controlling this narrative as per their convenience – wherein a professional, decision-making woman is supposed to look “masculine” and a female receptionist should look like an “eye-candy” all the time?
When women say they want equality and equal opportunities, it means that their gender or biological differences must not be seen as barriers or excuses that serve to exclude them. When women ask for gender-sensitive work environments, through period leaves or fully-equipped washrooms, it does not mean that they are exposing “feminine” weakness or fragility by asking for special favours. Because these are not special favours. These are basic rights that are rightfully ours.
Image Credit: India Today
Views expressed are the author’s own.