I find it thrilling that the topic of my time is gender equality at home and at work. The tension between these two spheres indeed is the crux of where I spend much of my efforts each and every day. I appreciate very much the ink, research and airtime committed to exploring the sociology, psychology and shitty chauvinism that contributes to the disparity between men and women’s take-home pay, professional achievement and work at home. Yet there is a critical piece of the pie that few dare touch:
Every husband, boyfriend, son and nephew has observed, joked and retreated in the face of some woman’s crabbiness, irrationality or full-on rage that torments her monthly. These mood swings are not just the stuff of stand-up comics and grumbling spouses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom.
A few years ago one media-impaired business group head in New Zealand made the mistake of publicly blaming the pay gap in that country on women’s monthly cycles. “Some women have immense problems with their menstruation – immense problems,” said Alaisdair Thompson. “You know, they can pop a lot of Paracetemol and drag themselves into work, but it’s hard for them.”
Thompson was lambasted for his sexist stance, but who can argue with his point? While studies have shown that women do in fact take more sick leave than men — the explanations point to women’s family obligations as the culprit — not their periods. After all, it is but a few women who suffer debilitating cramps, migraines and other physical symptoms that might warrant a sick day. But for the majority of us who contend with garden-variety discomfort, fatigue and bloating, I argue that we are not performing at our optimum on those days of the month. Unwell people are lesser performers.
And bitchy people are lesser performers. If your monthly grumpiness takes your partner or kids aback, there is no way that does not trickle into your professional relationships, too. No matter how hard I try, once every couple of months I find that I was short with an uncooperative story source, or sent an email to a client that was perhaps a bit more tersely worded than had it been written a few days later in my cycle. I’m 36 years old and have spent 25 years learning how to manage my moderate PMS, but every now and again my period does impact my personal and professional lives. I’m not blaming poor behavior or low performance on my biology, but merely trying to explain it.
The tricky thing about blaming the pay gap on PMS is that not all women suffer from it, not everyone who does suffer from it does so the same each month, and many women have successfully learned to manage theirs. It is tough to blame things people can control (pay, promotions) on something we arguably have little control over (hormones). And so we chose not to talk about PMS and take it out of the massive discussion on work-life balance, feminism and the pay gap. We are desperate to bust through glass ceiling, but in order to do so, we have to face all pieces of the puzzle.
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