Column geht’s noch: the inadequate woman

A gynecology professor calls for paid menstrual leave. Sounds nice. But excluding menstruating women is a tradition.

Menstruating is still a social taboo. Image: imago/blickwinkel

British professor Gedis Grudzinskas had a brilliant idea at Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas: paid menstruation leave. According to this idea, women should be entitled to three days off every month. Pretty nice, isn’t it?

However, this idea seamlessly ties in with a centuries-old tradition according to which menstruating women are excluded from the community. Symbolically, this was about general exclusion – because women, who were considered women because of their childbearing capacity, menstruated.

Accordingly, religions regulate the role of women through menstruation rules; in Christianity and Judaism, for example, menstruators are considered impure and excluded from community-building rituals. Many tribal communities still have secluded menstrual huts.

Today, however, it takes a gynecology professor to revive this tradition as an ambitious, supposedly new idea. And in doing so, he provides evidence that women continue to face symbolic obstacles in the world of paid work – and real ones, too, if you look at the number of women in influential positions.

It is astonishing, however, that so many women in the social networks were enthusiastic about the vacation qua womanhood. Of course, menstruating is still taboo in public. It would be nice if that were to change.

The demand for menstrual leave, however, radically changes the debate about equality. Instead of enforcing the outstanding wage equality or pay for care work, women are offered a consolation prize – which they would not take up anyway for fear of the disadvantages.

At first, something like a free-time equivalent for the pay gap is nice. But in light of this tradition-rich story of women’s specialness, or "inadequacy," in the workforce?

No, thanks.