Many debates in feminism have already been sparked by the period. Often at the center of the conflict: the question of whether the recognition of physical differences or their disappearance (possibly an adaptation to a male ideal) is more likely to advance gender equality.
Instead of, as is so often the case, symbolic politics and aesthetic interests, the draft law, which is now being presented in Spain as the first European country, is about a legal matter based on biological and medical facts: the so-called “menstrual leave” – a distorting euphemism – is intended for women with strong Menstrual pain allows you to take three or even five additional paid sick days per month upon presentation of a doctor’s certificate.
In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, for example, this right is already enshrined in law. Statistics on how often the suffering – the headaches, abdominal cramps and nausea – reaches a level that makes it impossible to work vary: some say one in ten women, others even one in three.
So why not recognize that physiological fact and derive appropriate rights from it? Critics of the proposal problematize the associated stigmatization of women. After all, doesn’t the supposed law remind us of the problems in some African countries where girls stay away from class during their period (out of shame, lack of sanitary measures, etc.) and thus miss important school material?
What may appear as opportunity and freedom may in fact turn out to be the entrenchment of a regressive separation between work and menstruation. “What, you work even though you’re on your period?” is a sentence that can spring not only from a utopia, but also from a dystopia. Like parental leave, which is propagated as a generous offer, which women in particular take advantage of and then often get stuck in part-time traps, the additional sick days could also mean an unfavorable career break. And possibly get companies to prefer to hire men who are less absent.
Undoubtedly, talking about menstruation and acknowledging the realities associated with it should be normalized. However, to ensure that normalization does not tip over into over-identification and re-traditionalization, a delicate balancing act has to be mastered.
A regulation like the one envisaged in Spain could make period pain essential as a female characteristic, instead of doing everything possible to combat it with medical research and urgently needed innovations, or with the possibility of working from home and flexible working hours.
Until we get there, guaranteeing sick days should not be based on gender and an associated statistical probability of pain, but on the presence of the pain itself.