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News flash: Periods aren’t bad or evil. And despite people experiencing menstruation daily, the Earth is still spinning on its axis.
Unfortunately, it seems that Australian executive coach Sarah Macarthur-King missed that memo in a big way.
In an article she wrote for HerCanberra, Macarthur-King explains that if you are a human who menstruates, you’re best off avoiding any decision-making while on your period.
“If they are that critical, waiting a week won’t hurt,” Macarthur-King writes of any choices you might have to make while in a leadership position at work while also having your period. “If you do have to though, enlist someone you trust to run it by for a sanity check.”
And this line of thinking — by someone who purports to have expertise on workplace success no less — is not only eye-rollingly retro, but also dangerous. Let’s break it down.
Period Stigma Is Real — and Pointless
All cisgender women within a certain age range get periods. (And some men get periods too!) It is totally natural. It is not weird. It is not embarrassing. And given that menstruation can begin as early as age 9 or 10 and go on every month until menopause — well, it’s far from a weird, rare, or unusual thing. Which is why there is nothing shameful about going through the process during which the uterus sheds lining it doesn’t need in the absence of pregnancy.
And yet period stigma is still alive and well, as evidenced in everything from crazy slang terms for periods and the way that feminine hygiene products are taxed as luxury goods to all the eyebrows raised when musician Kiran Gandhi free-bled while running a marathon and the way that Instagram censored a photo of a woman having her period.
Attitudes like Macarthur-King’s, which heavily imply that menstruation is a shameful process that upends a person’s life, making them useless at best and volatile at worst, only furthers the narrative that a process associated with women’s bodies is bad — and that, by default, so are women’s bodies.
Women’s Bodies Don’t Stop Women From Making Decisions (About Women’s Bodies)
Macarthur-King also lays out the argument that a natural part of cisgender women’s bodies prevents women from being in control of their own bodies — after all, are you really in control of your own brain and mind if your period might halt your decision-making capabilities?
From there it’s a slippery slope to the claims that women can’t make decisions about their bodies either, especially when their bodies might somehow wrongly influence their decision-making capabilities. And women don’t need any help when it comes to limiting their autonomy in this way, as evidenced by the staggering number of anti-choice bills introduced throughout the U.S. this year and the ridiculous amount of limitations women already face nationwide on their own reproductive health choices.
And it’s this kind of false narrative — that women need someone else to be able to make their healthcare choices for them because their own physiology renders them incapable of being the best person to make these kinds of choices for themselves — that has led the amazing women of Periods for Pence to take it upon themselves to inform Indiana Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence about the details of their monthly cycle. This came after they deduced that Pence seemed preternaturally concerned about the nuances of his female citizens’ bodies after employing some shady maneuvering to pass some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country earlier this year.
There’s Already a Deficit of Women Leaders in the Workplace (and It’s Not Because of Periods)
Approximately half of the U.S. population is female, more than half of all American women work outside the home, and just less than half of the U.S. workforce is female — and yet women only constitute 4.2 percent of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2016, down from 4.6 percent in 2015 and 2014.
And it’s myth-making like Macarthur-King’s, about how women’s bodies stop them from being effective leaders and decision makers, that heavily contributes to keeping the glass ceiling intact — even in the year 2016, when we may see a woman assume the highest office in the land.
Working women already have the deck heavily stacked against them, especially those who are also mothers. While 70 percent of all women who have children in the U.S. work outside the home, working women who are also mothers earn less than their non-mother peers due to a sociological effect known as the “motherhood penalty,” wherein mothers are paid less for the same work due to the social stigma that mothers are less effective employees. This, on top of the gender pay gap already faced by women (and felt most heavily by women of color), only creates further barriers to economic achievement for women who are already penalized in the workplace — and not because their periods are preventing them from success.
Double Standards for Work Outside the Home and Parenting
Another flaw in Macarthur-King’s thinking is the following implication: that if a period is enough to derail a woman from holding a leadership position at work for approximately one week of every month, it also means that women — who are already the primary caretakers for children in the U.S. — are also unfit mothers simply because they are women.
Let that sink in for a second.
After all, if a woman can’t be trusted to make a business decision because of her period, should she really be left to care for and ensure the safety of children? And make decisions related to parenting?
And herein lies the crux of the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t paradox faced by contemporary women throughout the industrialized world: Women are still thought to be lesser mothers if they also are engaged in the workforce, and are stigmatized for being less than male peers if they “only” engage in the work of parenting.
Saying that periods inhibit women’s ability to be functioning human beings only serves to perpetuate both of these myths, while also helping them reinforce each other. It implies that women are not as qualified for work because of their sex, but also that the work of motherhood is less critical if it can be performed by someone who gets a period.
And this is just wrong. Because women have been creating and discovering and achieving and succeeding for far longer than Macarthur-King has been attempting to push her regressive views on what women can and cannot do because of the bodies they were born with. And we will keep doing great things, big and small, for lifetimes to come, periods and all.