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?
72 replies on “Ladybleeding on the Job”
My periods are so heavy I’d leak through an ultra-tampon, overnight-pad and my clothing within 15 minutes – as well as taking Tranexamic and Mefenamic acid, using Chaste Tree Tincture, drinking coffee, and taking supplements, I use a menstrual cup. Without my menstrual cup I’d not be able to leave the house, let alone go to work!
My worst experience was working as a trainer/administrator within a skills training centre (training male unemployed ex-criminals in trades such as bricklaying) – I was the only women, amongst many men, and in an industrial unit in the middle of nowhere…
There was one toilet – the walls didn’t meet the ceiling (everyone could hear you), there was no seat, the toilet was filthy, obviously no sanitary product bin, rarely any toilet paper, sink separate from the room with the toilet, no hot water or soap, and worst of all…no lock on the door. My first day there I accidently went to walk in to find a guy peeing with the door wide open, from then on in I tried to time my toilet breaks with the guys lunch breaks (when they’d go to the local cafe).
I had to ask the manager for a sign on the door to say engaged/empty and ask all the men in the unit if they could change their habits for me – the one woman, who was only there temporarily, it didn’t go down well. Still no lock on the door, managers didn’t seem to understand my need for a lock on the door, if I had been there any longer I suspect I would have had to buy and install my own lock. It’s hard, you’re well within your rights to ask for such things, but you don’t want to have to force everyone else to change their behaviour just for you, more so as a woman amongst men in a male-dominated work-place; you have to be ‘one of the guys’, not easy if you’re seen as needing special treatment.
…during my period it was hell, I had to book an emergency appointment with my doctor (who didn’t seem to understand the urgency) to get more Tranexamic and Mefenamic acid to try to lessen my flow. Even with my menstrual cup I can still leak but I was unable to empty my cup while there as there was too high risk of someone walking in on me, so I had to wear multiple high-absorbency cloth pads at once. I still leaked badly enough that by the time I got home my pants were soaked in blood.
In an office it isn’t as bad, but theÂ question still remains; how do you explain you have to go home due to heavy period or cramps? You can’t just say you’re ill because in most office jobs they won’t let you leave unless you’re dying, you HAVE to tell them exactly why. I’ve never had to explain this, although I’d have no problem saying it was due to menstruation, and if they were to imply that wasn’t a good enough reason I’d have no problem detailing exactly why I’d have to go home…unless they want their office chairs and carpets covered in blood.
BUT as an ex office worker, and as a person with a disability, I know fine well that you never let management know there’s something ‘wrong’ with you, because even if they can’t legally fire you over such a thing, they will always find a way to fire you if they feel you may be too much hassle for them with sick days or reasonable adjustments (such as extra toilet breaks).
It’s funny to read this post now – I take my birth control pills so that I only have a withdrawal bleed four times a year, and so I’m currently having my first “period” at my new workplace. We share office space with two other organizations, and I’d say we’re about 85% women in their 40s-60s, so there are frequent conversations about menopause and the tone in general is pretty laid back. I am amused that I’ve become the official tampon provider when someone starts their period unexpectedly; two women in the past week have come to get tampons from me.
I’ve been very lucky, now that I think about it – I’ve usually worked in either woman-majority or woman-friendly places. Even the first job I had as a department store cashier – I wasn’t allowed to leave the registers, but if there was at least one other cashier there, if there wasn’t a long line and I needed to change my tampon (which I had to do exactly every 3 hours for the first day or two of my period in high school and beginning of college), I’d just tell her I needed to run to the bathroom and would race back to my locker to get a tampon out of my purse and then scurry to the public bathroom.