Period policy
Are we really willing to support the stereotype that women go a bit mad once a month?iStock

Women's biological processes used to keep them back from engaging in public life. If a woman was on her period, she was hysterical, dirty, even cursed by the spell of her own hormones. Stigmatising periods was a way of arguing that women's biology held them back from being equal to men − they were irrational and untrustworthy for a week of every month and, on the whole, beholden to their emotions rather than to reason.

Thankfully society has progressed beyond this ridiculous and backward view of women − or so we thought. Coexist, a non-profit organisation in Bristol, has made the headlines for announcing that it is considering giving female employees time off work when they are on their period. Coexist's director, Bex Baxter, explains that the policy is the product of an ongoing conversation about how to tap in to "employee's natural cycle" and "acknowledge the monthly trauma many women experience".

Many feminists have come out in support of this bizarre move, claiming that it is a positive step for women to be upfront and supported during their periods. Baxter even puts her policy in business terms: "When women are having their periods, they are in a winter state when they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies. The spring section of the cycle, immediately after a period, is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual."

Read more: Why menstrual leave marks an "enlightened era" of valuing women at work

Let's not beat around the bush here. Periods are not that bad. The majority of women will get a little backache and a few spots − hardly traumatic. What a period policy like this claims, is exactly what feminists and women's liberation movements have argued against throughout history − the idea that women are beholden to their bodies, not their reason. Arguing that a woman is less productive during her cycle is the same argument that was made in the past against supposedly hysterical and uncontrollable women. Are we really willing to support the stereotype that women go a bit mad once a month?

Never mind the fact that modern technology has long provided Western women with the tools to deal with periods in a number of ways. It's almost as if Coexist have chosen to ignore the availability of sanitary products and painkillers to allow women to control their periods. Women can even eradicate their periods completely with the use of contraceptive Pill or choose when to have them and for how long.

If a woman is old enough to be working, chances are, she's had her period for long enough to be able to deal with it without trouble. In cases of dysmenorrhea, endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome, women can suffer from quite serious pain during menstruation. But cases of these are uncommon, and most women with such syndromes will seek medication that prevents their lives grinding to a halt for a week of every month.

Contemporary feminism paints women as victims of society, at risk from sexualisation, demonisation and inequality at every turn

Although it's almost daft giving such air time to periods, there is a bigger issue at stake here: women's freedom. Contemporary feminism paints women as victims of society, at risk from sexualisation, demonisation and inequality at every turn. In fact, women in the West have never had it so good.

Women in their twenties and thirties are now earning even more than men, we can show a bit of ankle without being labelled a slattern, we have equal opportunity in every aspect of life. Gender no longer restrains women from accessing society's resources so women are no longer constrained by their biological processes.

Why then is there this desire to turn back the clock on progress and remove women's autonomy and claim to reason? What stereotype will be pandered to next: free chocolate bars for all women on their periods? Safe spaces for moody women at that time of the month?

Periods are a biological process that our bodies enact on us − periods are naturally out of our control. Without medication, I cannot decide when to have my period. But instead of encouraging women to use science and technology to overcome this biological barrier, a period policy suggests that women should actively allow their biological processes to determine how they organise their lives.

MPs bleating about the tampon tax, feminists moaning about 'raising awareness' of periods and mad companies supporting a period policy are completely silent on the issue of abortion

The same argument was made against abortion − if a woman falls pregnant, her body is no longer under her control and she must reorganise her life around this new change. Funnily enough, campaigners for periods, including MPs bleating about the tampon tax, feminists moaning about "raising awareness" of periods and mad companies supporting a period policy, are completely silent on the issue of abortion.

Abortion is not free and legal in the UK − a woman has to seek permission from two doctors, and prove a pregnancy would mentally harm her, before she is allowed access to an abortion. Forget about period policies, those who believe in truly making life more equal for women would get behind the campaign to decriminalise abortion.

The idea that we're different or need special measures because of our reproductive processes should make every women's blood boil. Periods have become somewhat of a fashion among feminist campaigners of late. But behind a well-seeming suggestion that work should be made more flexible for the aches and pains of life, is the deeply problematic suggestion that women are inherently less able for public life than men − even if that's only for a few days of the month. If we are serious about arguing that there should be nothing stopping woman from engaging in public life as much as men, we must reject these patronising and insulting suggestions.


Ella Whelan is staff writer at Spiked