TERRY PRONE: Feminism is not about making allowances for perceived weakness

Italy is mulling monthly paid leave for women with painful periods. Picture: AP

You have to wonder about legislators bringing in law that is, inevitably, going to make employers not currently gagging to employ females even less likely to want them, writes Terry Prone

Mama Mia. Figlia Mia. Exclamations are worth uttering, now that Italy is setting itself up to become the first western nation discussing the possibility of making companies grant three days’ paid leave every month to women working for them who have painful periods.

Many will rise and give a standing ovulation to the Italian legislators involved as champions of equality.

Applause should not be provided. Instead, perhaps we could look at the implications.

The first of those implications is that the women in any company who avail of this paid leave will, ipso facto, announce to their boss, their colleagues and their subordinates that they’re having their period, thereby sacrificing their privacy on one of the most private women’s issues.

The ones who fail to avail of this visionary new freedom will passively sacrifice their privacy, too, simply by turning up for work in a sequence of days broken only by public holidays and weekends, which everybody gets off.

Not only with those failing to avail of it sacrifice their privacy, but subconscious judgments will be made about them.

Like “thanks be to God Sophia over in accounts doesn’t disappear for three days every month.

Made of strong stuff, our Sophia.

Might be due promotion, even.

Shows her commitment to her employer, not like Gina over in HR.”

Cue suppressed eyerolls of contempt for Gina in HR, the wimp who takes the three days a month.

This, in turn, sows the seeds of disruption and disagreement among the women, who may feel that if someone’s handing the suffering sisterhood more than half a week off each month, it’s only a queen bee type who wants to suck up to the boss who wouldn’t take this gift.

Period-shaming, it’ll be called.

Then there’s the fact that if you multiply three days by 12 months, that’s 36 days of leave or mandated absence from the workplace — from what’s called a full-time job in the workplace. More than seven working weeks, by my calculation.

Grand if you’re the woman with the painful periods, as long as it doesn’t bother you that the rest of the workforce knows you can’t cope with a natural process.

This is not to suggest a lack of sympathy for women during their time of the month.

But the vast majority of women cope.

Different methods are used, among them Midol and a snarl.

Any woman who is genuinely felled by menstruation has a medical problem that needs treatment.

Unless she’s Italian, in which case her chances of spending three paid days in bed with a hot water bottle and a good book are improving by the minute.

Clearly, every modern working woman needs to move to Italy, where they so appreciate their female workforce.

Or maybe not, given that Italy is way behind most other European nations when it comes to employing women.

Women in Italy are much less likely than, say, women in Ireland to get through a job interview process when a man of reasonably equal qualifications is on offer.

If the woman does get through the interview process and then, a bit down the line, gets pregnant, she is much more likely to get fired because of her pregnancy than in Ireland.

In that context, you have to wonder about legislators bringing in a law that is, inevitably, going to make employers who are not currently gagging to employ females even less likely to want them.

One woman’s magazine in Italy said that, were the law passed, “employers could become even more oriented to hire men rather than women”.

You could bet the house on that one.

Why would any employer in their right mind want to pay full whack to an employee for less than 10 months of the year (when you add holidays to period days off) when you could be paying the same price to another employee and get seven extra working weeks for your money?

Back in the not-too-distant past when every airline pilot was a man and any gender other than male in the cockpit seemed a truly bizarre and dangerous proposition, one of the key arguments advanced against the early women’s liberationists who wanted to see women piloting planes was that girls, God love them and no harm to them, were sickened every month by their very femaleness and therefore could never be put in the cockpit of a passenger-bearing plane.

Sure the aircraft would be falling out of the sky every time the pilot had a period, went the argument.

As time went on, despite this deep-rooted conviction, more and more women became pilots, and investigations of the relatively few planes that have come down in the ensuing years failed to identify menstruation as a causative factor in any one of them.

A myth was downed and women moved into a professional area hitherto barred to them on the basis of sexist assumptions about women’s bodies.

Yet now, the Italians are playing a variation of Back to the Future.

An unhappy, dangerous variation.

Under the guise of vindicating women’s interests, they are walking women back 50 years, re-opening questions that should never have been asked in the first place.

Feminism is about equality.

Not about making allowances for perceived weakness.

Yet, in recent years, that’s where the movement has gone.

Instead of looking at success stories and working out the factors that make those women reach positions of influence, of power, of fulfilment, the emphasis has been on a handful of obstacles which are assumed to be keeping women away from those positions.

Childcare, for example, is seen as an exclusively female challenge, thus perpetuating an underlying prejudice which holds that essentially getting children from birth to university is the responsibility of their mothers, not their fathers.

When feminism revived in the sixties and seventies, it was not so focussed.

Ms, a term denoting gender but not marital status, became the title of a magazine devoted to removing women from the shackles of appearance, of husband-pleasing, of being seen as rocking the cradle rather than rocking the world.

More than half a century after Betty Friedan exploded that view of women, it’s back.

Either women are tolerated, having reached the top, by virtue of producing children along the way, or because they blither on in public about their “struggles” with their weight.

Or, as academic Roxane Gay says in her newly published autobiography, Hunger, grimly observes: “It is startling to realise that Oprah, a woman in her early sixties, a billionaire and one of the most famous women in the world, isn’t happy with herself, her body... Even as we age, no matter what material success we achieve, we cannot be satisfied or happy unless we are also thin.”

Here’s the next equality task: Women need to fight their diminution to a bunch of largely body- related problems, including menstruation, menopause and weight gain, and stop public commentary and policy-makers talking about childcare as if it was only a woman’s issue.


A long-time fad dieter, Katy Harrington tried unsuccessfully to embrace body positivity, so she’s trying something new (and neutral)Plusses of positivity: Forget body positivity - it's time to go neutral

Discovering the joys of the Monaghan and Armagh landscapes while venturing north, comes highly-recommended by Noel BakerTrekking north to Monaghan and Armagh is good for the soul

Sex advice with Suzi Godson.Sex file: Where have my orgasms gone?

Producers of the new landmark Attenborough series tell Sarah Marshall about some of the fantastic animal encounters they filmed.Visit the wildlife locations featured in the BBC’s Seven Worlds, One Planet

More From The Irish Examiner