I went out on a date with an American guy who started an English school in Asia. When talking about the business challenges he faced there, he alluded to the annoyance of having a mainly female workforce (95 percent, he said) who "wouldn't show up for work if they were on their period."
My immediate reaction to his comment was to let him know he sounded misogynistic (as in strongly prejudiced against women) and that this was sort of a biggie for me.
He didn't like it. He got defensive, clearly irritated by my response. I gave him a couple of minutes to consider why a woman could be offended by a comment like that. He said he didn't want to have to watch every single word that comes out of his mouth when he is around me. The truth is I wasn't expecting him to either. It's more like I would hope I didn't need to bring it up with him at all!
I do find that the older I get, the less patience I have for things like this, specially coming from someone I'm trying to like. At the end of the day, what we say is a reflection of what we think. And whether we recognize it or not, "innocent" comments like his carry a hidden sexism that we need to start noticing and erasing from our language if we truly want to promote equality, respect and love for women. This might seem like a silly argument to a guy, but changing the conversation about women to a supportive and respectful one also means changing the conversation about our periods.
Let me explain.
I think it's time to stop making generalizations about women based on the fact that we bleed every month. In all my years of professional life, I can't remember ever calling in sick because I was menstruating. I might have left earlier than usual once or twice due to an unexpected start of my cycle or a leakage, and I've definitely wanted to stay in bed more than once when starting my period, but I've always pushed through my day just like I would on any other day, with a bigger piece of chocolate, because that's what we women usually do. It can be painful and uncomfortable, even a drag, but I'm inclined to believe that the nearly 40 percent of female workforce in the world isn't staying in bed once a month based on their menstrual cycles -- even if they have the legal right to. (According to The Atlantic, in several, mostly East Asian countries, paid "menstrual leave" is a legal right for female workers.)
As for my friend, perhaps I could have asked him a few follow-up questions to try to find out how serious he was about his comment or the real extent of the business issue he was referring to. Maybe it was just a bad joke. Maybe I could have let it go. The truth is that his reaction to my reaction bothered me just as much as what he said in the first place, and I don't think this is one of those things we should simply "agree to disagree" on.
I think as women is up to us to figure out how much tolerance we can have for certain things. A younger version of me would have most likely let it slip. Today, I have zero tolerance for sexism in my life.
Happy Women's Day!