In this new post-coronavirus world, one day of menstrual leave a month is all I ask

We menstruate on average for four to eight days, and I’m only asking for one day. That’s a bargain

Labour MSP Monica Lennon explains her bill to make period products available in Scotland

Day two of my period: the worst has passed. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, I’m in a comfy chair with my feet up, working from home. The laptop is balanced on my legs and a hot mug of herbal tea substitutes as a hot water bottle. I’m making work work for me – isn’t that what this post-coronavirus culture is all about?

What I really want, however, is a day off a month. I want it much more than I want period-proof underwear, or a Mooncup, or a cannabis-infused vaginal suppository. No consumerism or millennial tech start-up will solve this for me.

As we consider “radical” notions such as working remotely, universal basic income and a green new deal, can we also just allow people to take a day of menstrual leave? It’s not a case of slacking off: we are increasingly discussing a four-day working week because fewer working hours have been shown to combat burnout and help productivity. Menstrual leave is already operational in countries like South Korea and Japan.

We menstruate on average for four to eight days, and I’m only asking for one day. That’s a bargain.

Every month, I wonder how some women do it. Paula Radcliffe, for example, or a younger Hillary Clinton. Surely they must have had days where they woke up and felt weighted down on their mattress, as if Isaac Newton had placed the centre of gravity in their womb? It amazes me that so many of us menstruating people, whether we are in manual jobs, office jobs, caring roles or in presidential offices, roll out of bed and get on with it.

I have friends who faint and vomit every month, make animal noises and threaten to bite their partners or anyone else who comes too close as they writhe in pain. I have friends who can do nothing but curl up into a ball and hope the painkillers kick in. They do not get a wink of sleep, and just as the cramps wear off around 7am, they have to turn off the alarm. I have friends who have endometriosis, and their pain is simply unimaginable.

Many of us plan parties, holidays and other occasions around our periods, yet our work is an unrelenting constant, because how can you email your boss and crack some lame joke and expect them to be understanding? There’s every chance your boss is going through the same thing.

Having a period may not be one of the reasons for me going freelance, but it has definitely been a top reason for staying so. I was fed up of going into office toilets and trying to curl up in a ball on the floor. It was unhygienic for a start.

Now so many people are working from home, they can feel the same freedom as I do, to stretch out on the floor, switch the kettle on and turn off their Zoom camera.

Yet, we are still there. It’s better that your period has the biggest impact in the evening or at the weekend so it doesn’t affect how your colleagues may view your work ethic.

We have made big strides recently when it comes to how we speak about and represent periods, but this is not reflected in the workplace. The term “period poverty” has become much more mainstream. In Michaela Coel’s new TV series, I May Destroy You, we see a man unfazed by period sex and he wonders at a blood clot in all its lumpy glory.

I’ve heard more segments about periods and the menopause on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour than I’ve had hot dinners. We’ve also debated tampon tax, and the charities that the money should be funnelled to.

Although I’m glad we are more open and transparent about periods, how does that help me when I’m in pain and don’t want to make a 9.30 meeting?

It’s OK to admit that I feel awful on my period. It’s OK to say, I’m not on top form today, physically or mentally. It doesn’t make me any weaker, any less capable.

It simply means that as we look to a flexible and perhaps more enlightened office culture in the future, one day off a month shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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