When it comes to being a woman in the workplace, there’s no shortage of challenges and uphill battles to fight. In my office, which is small and run by a stereotype-governed executive director who thinks that all women always carry nail files, these battles are fought up a steeper hill than other places I’ve worked. Until recently, I’ve not given much thought to how difficult it is for some women to carry on doing their job when they’re on their period. Normally, mine are fairly light and only last for about three days. In a strange turn of events, I’ve been bleeding off and on, sometimes gushing, for roughly six weeks. It’s been fucking distracting.
While this is obviously a bad situation, I’m fortunate in that I can stash my supplies in my desk and slip out to the “ladies room” whenever I need to do so. I don’t have to worry about it being too obvious that I’m having “female issues,” as my boss refers to it. I think back to how I might have handled this if I still worked in a restaurant or in retail and there is, literally (I don’t use this word lightly), no way I could have gone about doing my job. I couldn’t have run off to the restroom every 20 minutes, but if I didn’t, I would have had visible stains. It would have been impossible, and ultimately, embarrassing. How do you tell your employer that you have to go home because you’re bleeding all over everything when they’re a man? It makes me cringe to even think about telling any of my former male bosses. If I didn’t have a salaried position with some flexibility, I would have probably lost my job last week.
I know women who have such severe cramping that it’s debilitating; there’s no way for them to make it into the office and sit at a desk for eight hours. Their only option is to save their sick and personal days to spend at home, curled up in a ball, between trips to the bathroom to throw up.
During one of my worst days, I bled through a tampon and pad by the time I made it to my office, which is roughly a 20 minute commute. I had to walk in with blood all over my jeans before I could turn back around and leave to see my doctor. After I was given a prescription to stop the bleeding, I had to walk through a store, stand in line, and wait with blood stains that went half-way down my thighs. There was nothing I could do about it; I didn’t have anything I could tie around my waist, except a yoga mat (I have to admit it was tempting). I felt like every damn shopper in that store was looking and judging; frankly, I was humiliated.
Why is it so hard to talk about something that half the population has dealt with during their lifetime in a professional or public environment? Should we stick with things as they are and just say we have a headache and go home to bleed all over ourselves in private? In all seriousness, I can do that to some extent because I’m privileged enough to have sick days, but that hasn’t always been the case for me, and it certainly isn’t the case for many women who work. I sure as hell couldn’t have told my boss that I needed a special exception and extra time off because of my “female issues.” How would that have helped to further workplace equality?
I would like to know what you, wise readers, think about the politics of bleeding at work. Do you have any period horror stories to share or thoughts on how to work around it when it becomes an issue while on the job?