Why menstrual leave is anti-feminist

In the guise of ‘helping women’ some UK employers are following the lead of some Italian and Indian employers by allowing women to take time off during their menstrual cyclesWhile periods can be a real pain, leave of this type undermines women for several reasons.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it should be noted that both Italy and India have lower levels of female participation in the workforce. It reinforces the idea that biological determinism has a place in the workplace – something we’ve seen recently when Google employee wrote about how ‘different’ women were from men biologically – rendering them less able for the sciences. Taken to it’s extreme it reminds us of the times people questioned how female leaders would handle political problems at her time of the month – a variation which was seen most recently when Donald Trump accused Megan Kelly of ‘having blood coming out of her mouth, out of her wherever’ knowing that analogy would resonate with some who like to diminish women and reduce them to caricatures driven solely by their biology as other to the masculine ‘norm’. For women who suffer from reproductive issues such as endometriosis, medical leave is appropriate but lumping all women together also risks the same effects we’ve seen when hiring – uncertainty if they should hire or promote her as she ‘may get pregnant’. We have seen improvements on this, but menstrual leave would only exacerbate issues if an employer thinks a woman might take a day off each month simply for because she is a healthy woman.

Women have 1/3 the Pensions of men – £25k vs £74k – What’s yours?

Last week, I spent time with a friend who had worked a full professional life, but recently retired. When asking her about her travel plans, she admitted that while she would like to go abroad, she no longer had the money – her pension simply wasn’t enough for the life she’d envisioned for herself. She is not alone. The insurer Aegon found British women have pension savings of just £24,900 – far less than £73,600 men accumulate.

While there will be gender based disparities in pension provision globally, the UK’s gap is one of the largest gaps in Europe. Certainly, the new legal requirement for employers to set up pensions has been a boon. Now 69% of women in full-time employment have a pension – nearing the 70% rate of men. But women have to do much more to ensure they’ll have sufficient savings for the longer lives they lead on average, and the greater share of sharing responsibilities they shoulder. It’s not surprising a greater number of women live out their retirement in poverty than men – especially when they’ve prioritised their children and others first.

Want to raise an ambitious girl or empathetic boy?

What can 7 year old school children teach us about how well our early attempt at gender equality are succeeding? A great deal, actually. I just caught the two part series on BBCiPlayer of ‘Can our Kids Go Gender Free?’ where Dr Javid Abdelmoneim both examines and experiments with the gendered way both teachers and parents interact with young children. Setting up a provocative experiment with a class of seven year olds, over a period of 6 weeks, he aimed to create a gender-neutral zone in the class. I was completely in dispair to see how many of the young girls struggled with the same issues InclusIQ sees in the workplace amongst grown women: a lack of self-belief, a propensity to underestimate their scores on tests compared to their more favourable actual results and all-consuming focus on their looks – characteristics I would like to have thought did not start so young.

Seeing difference that young is enough to make you blame genetics. However, Professor Gina Rippon explained male and female brains, and even their muscles at that age are fundamentally the same. Behavioural differences between the sexes are not hard-wired at birth, but plastic and moulded by our exposure to the clothes they wear, the toys they play with, and even the adjectives people use to describe babies i.e. ‘cute’ versus ‘strong’.

I welled up when a bright little girl referred to herself as ‘ugly’ and the tearful joy and relief another showed when surpassing the physical strength she predicted she’d have. In fact, just as we see in the workplace, she and several other girls outperformed many of the boys on that test – who worryingly then lashed out with anger as their primary reaction at being bested. Similarly, boys are losing out too as they didn’t have the emotional vocabulary to describe how they felt about negative issues. To this point, one of the outcomes of this experiment was less aggression and fighting in the class amongst the boys. Clearly a win for families, schools and the boys themselves as they grow into adulthood.

As adults we think we are blameless in socialising our children along gender lines with ‘Pink princesses are what my daughter wants!’, the documentary was enlightening in how much we as well-intentioned parents and teachers collude and then perpetuate gender stereotypes. And it starts at birth. Indeed, when buying baby gifts this year for expectant friends, not knowing the gender of child limits your options. To that point, we were delighted to hear about John Lewis’ move to remove gender labels from a wide range of their range of children’s clothing. While the change has met to mixed reviews from the public, it certainly makes shopping for clothes in a way that avoids stereotypes an easier task! 

Check out the show on iPlayer if you haven’t seen it already – it’s humbling stuff for those of us wanting to raise an ambitious girl and a empathetic boy. #NoMoreBoysAndGirls