I knew vaguely what tampons were for, but hadn’t yet reached menarche — a Latin word that conjures up the gracefulness of a monarch butterfly, when your period actually makes you feel more like you’re in the puffy caterpillar stage.
After several minutes of arm-twisting, with the sharp edge of the guardrail digging into my back, I told the boys what little I knew. They dropped my arms, disappointed and disgusted.
Clearly they had been hoping Tampax involved something more illicit and exciting than women on their periods.
Menstruation was then, and is now, taboo. Women commiserate with each other, but it’s certainly not a topic of open workplace discussion, despite it being a part of life that can often be debilitating for half the population.
I hope that’s starting to change.
Last week, an episode of CBC Radio’s “The Current” discussed the notion of paid period leave for female employees who suffer painful menstruation.
My initial thought was, what a forward-thinking idea. But the conversation revealed there are cons as well as pros. The benefits are obvious, but the downsides include having to divulge personal information to your employer, and the fear that women would be seen as weaker or less versatile employees, and be treated accordingly.
Period leave is not new — Japanese companies have offered it since the Second World War — but it’s a topic that’s thankfully gathering steam in the West, and is currently being debated in the Italian parliament.
Local women I talked to had mixed reactions, though all acknowledged there are some women who are truly laid low by their periods and perhaps should be accommodated at work.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to talk about prescribed leave or something more formal, although if more severe cases are common it could be something to learn more about and consider,” one woman said.
“There are times I’ve found myself frantically sifting through the junk drawer in my desk, trying to find the bottle of pain relievers I keep there. Headaches, nausea, irritability are all a part of it…”
Another said paid leave could have spared her a lot of suffering at work.
“In the last year of my period, I had extreme heavy bleeding almost every day, and when I look back over that time, I don’t know how I got through it and still managed to show up for work…” she said. “In my opinion, this stress leads to depression. So I’m in full support.”
Another woman agreed, saying, “Going to work was pretty uncomfortable and not pleasant. Not only the cramping and heavy blood flow at times, but the overall feeling, mentally and physically.”
Other women see period leave as a policy that would be ripe for abuse.
“I think a lot of people would totally take advantage of that situation — just my opinion!” one said.
Another agreed: “Personally, I feel that this would be taken advantage of by a lot of women — not saying that some don’t need it, but there leaves too much room for faking and taking the time.”
Others said any sort of period leave should be flexible, as it would not necessarily be warranted every month.
“Each month was different — some I could handle, other months not so much,” one person said. “There were times I could not get out of bed for the first few days.”
Another woman said it boils down to the fact that “Society has to be educated on how a menstrual cycle actually affects the female body.”
She’s right. Let’s hope this is the start of a broader conversation.
Women menstruate. And it can hurt like hell. Period.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton