Category Archives: Women in society

Period policies : a woman’s friend or foe?

Period policy at work

It seems that a forward-thinking company in Bristol is planning to put in place a ‘period policy’. It would to allow women to take time off work during their period, thus boosting  overall productivity and efficiency. The director of the company claims it will help synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles.

*splutters tea over laptop*

It’s all very admirable. Unless you think it’s just plain balls.

Whatever next? Paid leave for bouts of hysteria? Pregnant women being turned away from the office and forced into confinement until their child is delivered into the arms of a wet nurse? Tying underperforming female colleagues to a ducking stool? Well goodbye 21st century and hello Dark Ages.

I have several problems with something that proposes “a radically new model of the menstrual cycle as an asset for your entire organisation”. (Just imagine if that popped up as the title of a Powerpoint presentation at work!)

1. Yawn, another stigmatising nod to de-stigmatisation

Yes, periods can bloody hurt. They can leave you doubled up, nauseous and feeling like you’re at death’s door. Of course they’re not an illness and we all know how women can still roller skate, swim, ride bikes and dance in tight-fitting white lycra when the decorators are in, don’t we? Far from de-stigmatising periods, the special treatment proposed by the ‘period policy’ is just that: special treatment – and not in the positive sense. It seems to be yet another way to demarcate women and highlight their ‘difference’ in the workplace.

Please let’s not lumber women with another ‘weakness’ that sets them one step behind their non-menstruating, non-child-bearing colleagues. But, I hear you cry, the article says that the “spring section of the cycle immediately after a period is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual” – surely we can harness that? In reality, would a business really wait for your period to pass?

“Oh, don’t talk to Beryl – she’s got her period. Give that important client to someone else. Beryl’s just not that creative when she’s on the blob … No, the client won’t wait. But don’t worry, there will be another less important client for Beryl when she’s back to her normal self. Bless her.”

2. Isn’t this unfair on men and anyone else who regularly feels a bit yucky?

Most men don’t do the period thing (and obviously not in the literal sense). I can clear my husband from a room by tossing an unused, wrapped tampon at him – they’re like kryptonite to his Spider-Man. Integrating menstruation into the workplace (another Powerpoint title for you there) isn’t going to happen. Why expect men to suddenly start feeling comfortable talking about menstruation around the water cooler? From a woman’s perspective, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing or assuming I’d got my period. Not because of any stigma but because it’s personal. In the same way I wouldn’t want the whole office knowing if my bowel movements had been a bit loose that morning. Most importantly, I’d hate for people to feel they had to treat me differently.

Interestingly, an article in the Telegraph last year reported on a study which found than 25% of British men believe they have a monthly ‘man period’. Should they be let in on the ‘period policy’ too then? Whilst we’re at it, I’d also like to put my hand up for a ‘migraine policy’ please. And perhaps a ‘my kids have been up all night puking policy’. It’s only fair.

3. Shouldn’t it be about better workplace policies generally?

This shouldn’t be about new-fangled workplace policies. If someone feels they cannot take some time off when they feel genuinely unable to perform at work, then there is a problem with the culture of their company. If “when women are having their periods they are in a winter state, … they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies” then sort out flexible working policies and let them work from home beneath a humongous hot water bottle. If employers treat their employees well and meet needs where they can, then they will be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and creativity – it doesn’t matter one jot whether the employee is male or female.

I’m sure some women would say I’ve completely missed the point. Perhaps the article caught me at the wrong time of the month. Maybe my body temperature was 0.5 degrees too high to be able to appreciate how truly bloody brilliant the idea of a ‘period policy’ is. I hope for the sake of that business in Bristol that their female employees aren’t all on the same cycle. As the tumbleweed blows through the office they’ll have time to discuss the wisdom of the policy, if they can make themselves heard over the sound of men rubbing their hands together in glee.

Take Me Out: a feminist’s dream?

ITV dating show

Take Me Out. It riles me. It grates with all my principles. It makes me feel embarrassed. Most of all, it makes me fear for the giant steps that women are currently making through campaigns such as This Girl Can and No More Page 3 (if you ignore the childish and aggressive behaviour of The Sun with regard to the latter). If I have these concerns then why do I continue to let my 6-year-old daughter watch Take Me Out? It’s all about the lessons she can learn.

“There’s a boy and a girl and if they switch their light off they don’t like him and then there’s one person left and they go on holiday to Fernando’s.” That’s how a child sums up the premise of Take Me Out, ITV’s 21st century (apparently) dating show. Simple, innocent, unquestioning. Of course, it’s great Saturday night entertainment and along with many other forms of entertainment where women aren’t given credit for having anything other than breasts, make-up and a desperate desire to meet Mr Right, many would say that it should just be treated as a bit of light-hearted fun. (Which brings us back to Page 3.) But as with many media portrayals deemed harmless and fun – think back to the racism in British TV shows in the 1970s – the potential for lasting damage, particularly on impressionable minds, is serious.

Why do I let my daughter watch it? Because her cranky mother with her feminist leanings sits next to her and provides a social commentary. Hands up – I enjoy the show. I enjoy it not because it makes me feel good about being a woman in 2015 but because of the constant amused disbelief it generates. It pleasurably raises my hackles and gives me full licence to pontificate to my daughter about everything that is wrong with the programme.

You shouldn’t judge people on their looks alone

In the last episode we watched, the majority of the girls switched off their lights on first sight of the man. What a blast to his self-esteem. We all form an immediate opinion of people based on first impressions – that’s normal – but we have to learn to recognise that shortfalling and then think beyond it.

“Won’t those girls who switched off their lights be really sad when they find out what a nice, interesting man he is?” I venture. Her argument was that the rules say you’re allowed to switch your light off in the first round – “No likey, no lighty, Mummy”. A rule’s a rule and I should probably be proud that she respects that.

It takes some effort to explain to a 6-year-old why it isn’t acceptable to judge someone based on how they look; they are still taking the first steps in developing empathy and mostly they are the centre of their own universe. Yet it doesn’t hurt to prod them in the ribs with a not-so-gentle reminder of how cruel TV ‘entertainment’ can be.

“Look mummy, she’s got trousers on”

As we watched the parade of girls at the beginning of Saturday’s show, I started to tut (quite rightly) about how they’d forgotten to put some of their clothes on. My daughter countered that the studio was probably quite hot. Fair point, but I went on to say how much better they would look dressed a little more … elegantly. My daughter told me that I’m not as stylish as the girls on Take Me Out. And they’re at least 20 years younger than me, dear daughter, and, as they are single and in all likelihood childless, they have a disposable income to deploy on looking ‘stylish’.

All is not lost though. When my daughter pointed out that one of the girls was actually wearing trousers (skin tight but at least no flesh on display) I congratulated myself with unashamed smugness that some of what I’ve preached might just be sinking in.

Fortunately, my 3-year-old son has no interest in Take Me Out. If he did then, yes, I would let him watch it too. And, yes, I would be equally keen to point out its inadequacies to him – perhaps with more vehemence than with my daughter. Part of that is that, whilst inequality continues, women are in dire need of help from men. It’s not up to women to fight alone but it will take more than Ed Miliband and Benedict Cumberbatch wearing t-shirts with slogans to force change from the roots up. Perhaps Take Me Out is another small step to educating the men and women of the future, providing we’re savvy enough to use all that is bad about it to do good.

Objects of desire

Fragile box

I have been slightly disturbed by a recent thread on a mums’ online group. The discussion was about the attractiveness of a local delivery man – his doorstep appeal. Sizzling, apparently. The type of fella you’d want to be answering the door to in your nightdress. Maybe letting your dressing gown slip open as you drowsily open the door at 7am. Desperate housewives having a bit of a giggle. All good, clean fun, right?

But turn the tables and is it so funny? Imagine a thread on a dads’ forum talking about a delivery woman: “Should’ve answered the door in my pants!” “Wouldn’t mind posting something in her box!” Suddenly it sounds less harmless and much seedier. Why is it okay for women to do to men what they don’t like done unto themselves? Is one of the benefits of being the ‘weaker’ sex that we can harangue men in a non-threatening and therefore acceptable way? Look at the ad with the Diet Coke man cutting the grass – tossing him the shaken can to open is equivalent to making a woman climb a ladder to look up her skirt. I’d like to see whether an advert like that would avoid complaints.

I’m not aiming criticism at the people who commented on the thread – I certainly want to be able to go into town without wearing a flak jacket – but it made me think about the double standards that operate in a society that is (hopefully) striving for equality. Perhaps turning the tables on men is a form of empowerment – an attempt to redress the balance of power by taking men on at their own game. After all, gender equality is about creating a level playing field. Do we therefore say, yes, it’s fine for women to talk about men based on their appearance and sex appeal alone. If we do, then at the same time we should be reaching for the topshelf in the newsagents and ripping the protective wrapping off the men’s magazines – right? It’s only fair after all. Either we agree that it’s acceptable to treat women and men like this, or we agree that no one should be reduced to the status of a mere sexual object.

That’s an awful lot of questions. I don’t have the answers and, yes, maybe I should take a hike and go and burn my bra someplace else. I am sure the delivery man – high up on his pedestal – is in no danger of being chased down and ravished by a pack of mums so to that extent it is harmless. But I wonder how he would feel if he read what was being said about him. Perhaps he’d be delighted and his testosterone levels would surge. But perhaps – and there’s a good chance – he would feel uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassed by the attention he’s received.

Am I a failed feminist?

Girl picking flower

I think I’m a feminist. That’s not me pushing back my chair to stand up and make a guilty admission. What I mean is that I think I’m a feminist but probably don’t meet all the requirements, if such rigid requirements indeed exist. I’m interested in the issues and barriers affecting women and will gladly step up on a soapbox or two. Is it terrible then that this afternoon I helped my 5-year-old daughter get ‘dolled up’ for an evening out at the theatre?

This afternoon was special. It was the last afternoon we had alone together before the start of the new school term. With a trip to the theatre with her dad planned for the evening, I decided to treat her to an afternoon of pampering. Or, as it turned out, I gave her a bath and painted her fingernails whilst she watched back-to-back episodes of iCarly. We chose a dress (pink) and a cardigan (sparkly) for her to wear out, selected some of her less tacky jewellery and packed a little handbag (the one that was “more like a grown-up’s”) with a purse, tissues and plasters (of course). Finally, I helped her apply a little bit of eyeshadow and some lip gloss. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, or, in this case, freebie make-up sets from a well-known brand of kids’ shoes are.

Did I do wrong? No. Am I betraying my feminist tendencies? Possibly. I think it’s highly unlikely that our afternoon will send her in the direction of wanting to be a glamour model rather than a rocket scientist. Equally, I doubt that she will be left thinking looks are more important than anything else. What we did this afternoon was for her. She’s not interested in what other people think when they look at her. (And I hope that will long continue.) She’s interested in how things make her feel inside. Doing what she sees Mummy doing made her feel more grown-up and thus independent, things most children hanker after whether or not we agree with or support it. It wasn’t about feeling more like a ‘woman’ (with the negative connotation that women are defined by make-up and fashion), it was simply about being on level pegging with an adult. If taking a razor to an imaginary beard could have had the same effect, she probably would have done it.

I’m very much against thrusting toys at girls that could narrow their aspirations. We fought the tide of pink in our household and were eventually overwhelmed. But rather than call wildly for help from a sea of sparkly plastic, I’ve hoisted myself on a boogie board and ridden the wave. Pink paraphernalia, make-up and glitter aren’t going to put my daughter in a pigeon hole from where she can’t see the stars. There are things in our world far more powerful and pervasive that will try to inflict such damage. What matters is her having confidence – the ability to define who she is by herself, rather than be defined. If the biggest enemies to achieving this were the colour pink and a bit of nail polish then the need for feminism would have ceased to exist a long time ago.

Sometimes the worst things in life are free

Tabloid newspapers

There are some things I like getting for free. Three for the price of two on shower gel, snifters of alcohol from supermarket promotions, good pieces of advice. Then there are the things that I don’t like getting for free: The Sun, for example. I thought I’d escaped being one of the ‘lucky’ 22 million households to receive a special ‘historic’ edition of said newspaper. But there it was sitting on my door mat. The slug trail it had left on the door and across the mat as it slipped in was invisible but still very much there.

‘This is Our England’. I bloody well hope not. First of all I object to being lumped into being part of ‘our’ anything if it involves a tabloid newspaper. Please don’t co-opt me into something without my permission. Second, if this is our England than I’m booking a passage elsewhere. I get the intention but I really don’t like the mindset behind it.

Rather than sprinting straight for the recycling bin, I decided to have a read. Perhaps, like the people asked on pages 2 and 3 ‘which characteristic best reflects Englishness?’, I respect fair play (47%) and am tolerant towards others (36%). Yes, I was surprised these attributes featured in the top 3 too – maybe I’ve got The Sun wrong all these years …

REWIND …

Maybe I haven’t got The Sun wrong all these years. I got no further than Page 3 (thankfully tit-free – naked ones at least) before my hackles were raised. Oh dear, dear, Desmond Morris, serious anthropologist – what were you thinking when you wrote your piece on Kelly Brook, “our favourite English rose”? A “contradictory combination” of English Rose and “Britain’s Sexiest Woman”, a combination “devastating when seen by a virile young male”. Oh please. Let’s hope Desmond never starts a career writing erotica as this first attempt is pretty dreadful. He’s wonderfully brilliant at putting Kelly on a pedestal but simultaneously manages to lay her out like a slab of meat. It’s a depressing study in objectification. At least they kept her boobs covered. Small things. (Well, usually large things when it’s The Sun …)

The Sun

If you’re a woman reading this, would you like to feel a little bit more alienated? Yes? Oh go on then, here’s a treat for you, especially if you consider yourself to be a ‘real’ fan of football:

The Sun

The offside rule is, for most people, hard to understand. If you are a woman it is especially hard to fathom. Thank goodness for The Sun trying to explain it to you here – if only you could drag yourself away from ogling Ronaldo’s legs and focus on the more cerebral topic at hand. Oh heck, don’t bother. You’re just a woman.

Before I’m accused of getting my large, padlocked Victorian knickers in a twist, there is one thing I admire about The Sun – the journalists. Their ability to write perfectly for the tabloid genre is mightily impressive. It can’t be easy but, if you approach it unashamedly, it’s probably quite fun. Journalism jobs with the national papers are incredibly hard to come by. Which young hack desperate for break would turn down a job at The Sun even if it meant producing content that goes against what they believe in? These are clever folk creating a clever product – it knows what it’s doing and who it is doing it for.

Perhaps I’m taking it all a little bit too seriously. If we could be sure that everyone who reads The Sun appreciates tongue-in-cheek then it would be more bearable. The sad fact is that there will be a large number of people who take the newspaper as gospel and accept it as a fair depiction of how attitudes towards women should be. ‘This is Our England’ – I sincerely hope it isn’t. Now for that visit to the recycling bin.