September 11, 2007

Curtains at the Workplace and Gloria Steinem

TAKING OFF from Dilnavaz’s post on menstruation and the shame surrounding it, what I find particularly irritating are the practical implications of this at a workplace. In most offices, men and women work in close quarters and it can get really awkward because one is expected to hide something that’s so integral and, well, regular. Depending on how conservative the office is (although I have known this to be a taboo topic even in ‘free’ work atmospheres), there can be a veritable dance of deception.

When women have bad cramps and male colleagues ask them what’s wrong, they’ll inevitably wince and say “nothing”, look guilty and mumble “stomach ache” or lie. Once, in my previous job, a female colleague had such terrible cramps that she had to take half the day off. Luckily, she had a woman boss who knew what was wrong. I remember glancing across the aisle at my taciturn male boss and wondering what I would have done in a similar situation. Because telling a man (gasp!) that you’re not feeling peachy because of…ahem…”the time of month” is just not done.

Changing pads is another ordeal. Women will wait till the men look suitably occupied, look around surreptitiously, then sidle out of their chairs clutching their bags close to them and sneak to the toilet. The attitude and body language is usually one of acute embarrassment. In one company that I worked for, there were no facilities for women to dispose of sanitary napkins. It just hadn’t occurred to the male bosses that this may be required — and the women were too shy to ask!

Then there’s the issue of the Stain — an eventuality that many women live in mortal fear of because it can unleash embarrassment of horrific proportions. And if you get a Stain during an important meeting with the boss or an important client, it may just be professional hara kiri. Not to mention, you’ll be sniggered about for the rest of your days.

On a lighter note, take a look at noted feminist Gloria Steinem’s take on “If Men Could Menstruate”.

To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.

And this,

Street guys would invent slang (“He’s a three-pad man”) and “give fives” on the corner with some exchenge like, “Man you lookin’ good!

“Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”

Now, that’s a thought. 😀

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5 comments to Curtains at the Workplace and Gloria Steinem

  • GG

    Four years of engineering college and the ladies common room had no disposal facilities either. Its high time some enterpreneur looked into installing vending machines in women’s bathrooms!

  • apu

    well, at the workplace, there is still the general impression that a lot of ‘personal’ issue should not be mentioned, but the thing about menstruation is, its often taboo even in the informal home atmosphere! even today many families follow these strictures of a menstruating woman kept apart, eating separately etc… makes me see red!

  • meterdown

    i worked in the municipal secondary schools here in bombay, setting up computer labs, going from school to school, for 3 years. not one of the loos had a place to dispose of napkins. and this is a very woman dominated environment. i never understood it. I and my female trainer would stick them back in our bags, wrapped in newpaper inside plastic bags. i mentioned it once to a teacher, and she said, yes isn’t it terrible.

  • i love this post! i mean, i cant think of many places where i would be able to share such a conversation. But another thought, cramps and that time of the month should not take too much of our mind space too right?

  • @ Gah
    I agree. I wish some bright young MBA would suggest this to their bosses.

    It’s absolutely infuriating. I haven’t had the ‘good’ fortune of seeing this up close but have heard lots of stories.

    How awful! Is there any way to complain and get them to do something?

    Our bodies are important. They affect many aspects of our lives and are sometimes, impossible to ignore. For a woman, menstruation is an integral part of her body and being forced to feel additional discomfort or shame about it is A) unfair and B) can affect her mental well being, productivity, self esteem and other things. All of which are important.

    Glad you liked the post. 🙂

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