Do Women Want Time Off Work for Their Periods?

Do Women Want Time Off Work for Their Periods?
A Russian legislator says menstruating women need two days off every month. On reflection, some American women say, "Nyet, spasibo" (Photograph by Ojo Images)
Photograph by Ojo Images

When a cashier gives me too much change back, I usually keep it, though it makes me feel a little guilty. Yes, I know it isn’t mine. But I’m also secretly pleased with myself, as if taking Jamba Juice for an extra 45¢ is some sort of clever smoothie heist. I get the same feeling when a restaurant gets my order wrong and comps my meal, when someone offers to carry something I can easily carry myself, and when the government announces that women can stay home from work when they’re on their periods.

That last one could conceivably happen in Russia, where Mikhail Degtyaryov, a member of the nationalist LDPR party, has introduced a bill that would give women two paid days off work each month when they’re menstruating. On his website, Degtyaryov explained that during women’s periods, “the pain for the fair sex is often so intense that it is necessary to call an ambulance.” When women are not writhing on the office floor in pain, Degtyaryov believes that they suffer from fatigue and inefficiency: Wouldn’t it better for everyone if they just stayed home?

There is no similar bill pending in the U.S., mainly because it’s a terrible idea and one that could make for very awkward HR conversations. Plus it’s unnecessary. Women have gotten along just fine without period leave for centuries, and churning butter in a corset and hoop skirt is a lot less comfortable then popping some Advil during a conference call. Still, I kind of like the idea. Am I just being lazy? Would other women take these days off too?

“Yes. I would,” says Elise, a lawyer in Miami. “And people I come into contact with would want that for me.”

“I’d actually prefer two days off the week before, when I want to strangle people,” says Danyale, who, as a licensed psychologist in California, probably shouldn’t go around saying she wants to strangle people.

Elise and Danyale weren’t alone in their willingness to accept the time off. (They’re also not the only ones who asked that their last names not be used in an article about periods.) In fact, of the nearly two dozen women I polled, 10 of them said they’d take the days immediately, no questions asked. Others wanted a bit more information. A former colleague of mine in New York said if the time would count against her vacation days, she didn’t want them. Denise in Indiana wondered if she could choose which days to take. “Work would be like, ‘Why does your period always fall on a Friday and a Monday, Denise?’ Because I need a four-day weekend every month, ass.” No, Denise is not on her period. She just calls everyone ‘ass.’

But the more she thought about it, the more Denise worried that taking time off would affect her career. She works in an auto dealership with mostly men and has enough trouble with their off-color jokes as it is. Sarah, a librarian in Los Angeles, felt the same way. “I don’t think I would want my coworkers to say, ‘Oh, Sarah’s taking a period day today.’” Besides, there were so many logistical questions that implementing the law doesn’t seem even remotely possible Do you have to tell your boss when your period starts? What happens when you hit menopause?

Soon, other women—even women who initially said they’d take the days—started turning the offer down. When I asked the question of friends on Facebook, an acquaintance who is in the military acted as if this were the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. My friend Ula, who’s a lawyer in Portland, Ore., looked at it from a legal perspective: “It would have to be two paid days off for everyone or it would be open to gender- and age-discrimination charges in a heartbeat. I also don’t want to add any weight toward the argument that women on their periods are crazy and untrustworthy.” That’s a good point. We’re just as crazy and untrustworthy the rest of the month, too.

In the end, we all agreed that cramps or PMS can make it hard to work. Some months aren’t so bad, while other months you find yourself furtively dipping Tylenol gel-caps into a jar of Nutella. But for women, this is all just a part of life. As is pregnancy. And childbirth. And cellulite. And hot flashes. But hey, at least we don’t go bald.

So as much I’d like to sleep in an extra 24 days a year, I don’t really need to. And I don’t want anyone thinking I do. Most women I talked to felt the same way. They said that even though it’s tempting, they wouldn’t take the offer. Most—but not all.

“I would be offended and I would take it,” says Susan, a law clerk in Ontario. “Because it’s two days off.”

Fair enough. I’m still keeping that 45¢.

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