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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Female conditions

9 replies

CailinDana · 03/10/2011 08:55

I've come up against a number of situations where women were really suffering due to a bad period or a difficult pregnancy but because they're "not ill" they are expected to soldier on when if they were suffering that much with an illness they would go to bed without a moments' thought. When I was training as a teacher, male students were told by the (female) PE teacher to sit down or go home if they looked off colour but if a female student complained of period pain then they were looked at with contempt as if they were trying to malinger. In one instance a friend of mine was literally green and could barely walk and she was still expected to carry on. (The classes were compulsory and you would lose marks for unauthorised absence). Similarly at work I've seen women struggle on with a difficult pregnancy, sometimes putting themselves and their baby at risk due to stress and overwork, for fear that they will be judged for "slacking." Often it's actually other women making them feel this way.

I believe if you're not well you're not well and you should take time off regardless of what the cause is. I can see however how women who take a lot of time off due to periods or pregnancy might worry about being taken seriously in the workplace. Should it be the norm that pregnancy brings the assumption that you should take it easy and that if you're ill you should take time off? I know there are risk assessments and whatnot but I do think a lot of women feel obliged to act as if they're not pregnant and carry on as normal. What do you think?

OP posts:
AMumInScotland · 03/10/2011 10:44

I think I'd make a distinction between period pains and pregnancy.

If a member of my team was pregnant, I'd accept whatever level of illness/symptoms they had as "acceptable" and a temporary short-term issue, and not have any problem with them taking time off.

But if someone was taking time off every month for period pains, then they would very quickly reach the "trigger point" for sick absence at my work (11 days in a year) and I'd be expecting them to find some kind of solution to the problem. I'd feel sympathetic, same as I would for any illness, but people can't really expect to take 1 or 2 days off every month and that not to have an effect on their employment.

CailinDana · 03/10/2011 11:09

True, AMum. I'm thinking more of occasional period problems, where every now and again you get a really bad one or you're very run down from it and are lacking energy.

WRT to pregnancy, do you genuinely accept a team member being a bit unreliable during pregnancy or do you find it irritating and regard it as slacking somewhat, even privately?

OP posts:
AMumInScotland · 03/10/2011 11:34

Occasional ones, I wouldn't have a problem with. I don't give my team the third-degree if they phone in sick, and I don't need to hear the details of what's wrong - if they just said they were feeling terrible and couldn't make it in, I wouldn't be that bothered if it was period pains or a dodgy curry. The important thng is how much it adds up over the year though.

I haven't actually had a pregnant team member yet, so it's a bit hypothetical! I guess it would depend how often they were off, and whether I'd had doubts about their attitude before. Plus, if they're taking sick leave it still goes towards the trigger point, pg or not, so I wouldn't have much leeway to be that sympathetic. If they got signed off for 2,3, whatever weeks then that's easier than having someone not making it in on random days.

But since I'm in an office job, its less likely that pregnancy would make it difficult for someone to do the job, as its sitting down, easy distance to the loo, etc!

sunshineandbooks · 03/10/2011 13:50

I'd agree that there needs to be a distinction between pregnancy and period pains. The former is already covered in UK law to some extent, whereas the latter isn't.

It would be interesting to know how many days are lost each year to period pains. If this was a male problem, occurring en masse each month, I think there would probably have been headline articles and a govt. commissioned enquiry into it by now, and a concerted attempt at a solution aimed at improving men's health. I suspect we'll never know as many women, especially career professionals, would never admit to it for fear of damaging their reputation.

How much of it is a case of "well you wanted to get in the workplace, now you're here you can't go crying off because of women's problems"? How much is the problem a reflection of the fact that women are often under much more stress than men ? which will aggravate menstruation problems ? because modern-day working practises still favour men? Women overwhelmingly still have responsibility for home and family life as well as paid employment in a way most men do not. All that juggling, and something has to give - usually our health (mental or physical).

BikeRunSki · 03/10/2011 14:00

I have had 7or 8 weeks off work with hyperemisis in two (of 2!, now 37 wks) pregnancies. By law, time off sick related to pg can not count against you, but better still, was that both times I had my line manager's support - once I had a male manager too. They even both came to see me in hospital. I feel that I have a very enlightened employer. I have also worked with someone who had regular time off due to difficult periods - work Occupational Health fast tracked her to see a gynacologist.

inkyfingers · 03/10/2011 17:11

Sunshine - Why then is testicular cancer so unreported (no pink ribbons) or that men are far less likely to report ill-health than women? Is there evidence that women are more stressed by work than men?

forkful · 03/10/2011 17:22

CailinDana - that sounds awful Sad

Pragmatic answer is for women to not mention that their severe stomach pain is period pain. Often a severe pain associated with period is not in fact "period pain" it is period + fibroids or period + endo or period + ovarian cyst etc etc.

sportsfanatic · 03/10/2011 17:53

Inkyfingers As someone who was involved in raising awareness of testicular cancer (and other male cancers)I can tell you that there are two main reasons why TC is less reported - not unreported by the way - first, it is much much rarer and second it has pretty much the highest cure rate of any cancer. There were 2,138 cases in the UK (latest stats) with a 5 year survival rate of over 95%. Compare this to 48,034 of breast cancer (including 341 males) and a 5 year survival rate of 82% (breast cancer also being one of the few cancers where you cannot be consider cured after five years as it can return many years after that).

Women are far more likely to report ill health at an earlier stage than men. Taking cancer again as that's an area I know about. The survival rates for female melanoma are over 10% higher than for men because women don't delay so much in reporting unusual signs.

"Men are less aware of their symptoms than women, and are more reluctant to seek help. They delay going to the doctor which means their symptoms are more advanced" That is a quote from Peter Baker, Chief Executive of the Men's Health Forum. It does not mean they are healthier, though of course they don't have the more complex reproductive factors to contend with.

It's probably different now but when I was working in the field in the 90s it was women who were most active in raising awareness of men's cancers. Wifework perhaps?

Some studies show that women are more stressed - again maybe because of Wifework, but it depends on the individual of course. Stress is the result not of hard work and long hours necessarily but of having no control over a situation, which is why the high flying businessman may be less stressed than his lower paid staff - he has stress but has control - they have stress but less control. Women who work but take on more than their fair share of home and child care may be faced with more stress and less control over their lives.

sunshineandbooks · 03/10/2011 17:57

inkyfingers - there has been a huge drive about testicular cancer, prostate problems and even erectile dysfunction. I've seen nothing comparable for 'women's problems' apart from products 'with wings' which are supposed to make us have a 'happy period' apparently.

I haven't said women are more stressed by work. I've said many women have to work AND keep house/care for children and/or elderly relatives/do the shopping, etc etc in a way that most men still do not. That's where the extra stress comes from.

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