Barkha Dutt Says Period Leaves Make Women Seem Weak. Raise Your Hand If You Looked Up To Her And Are Now Disappointed
They say, choose your heroes well. Don’t just blindly follow them; question them. Because only a true skeptic can be a true believer, ain’t that right? For women, strong feminist heroes and role models come sparingly. So we hold on to the ones we get rather tightly. For many women of my generation, especially those passionate about writing and journalism, women like J.K. Rowling and Barkha Dutt have been prime examples of strong, opinionated women we aspire to be. Yet, call it the curse of 2020, but both these women have managed to let me down spectacularly; one with her views on transgender women not being women. The other, on her stance on period leave for female employees, which IMO, pollutes the very spirit of feminism by making gender equality ignore basic biological differences between men and women. Basically, she kind of implied that highlighting menstruation makes women weak.
If you keep up with the news as much you keep up with the Kardashians, you’re probably aware of the recent debate surrounding period leave, after Zomato decreed that it would grant period leave to its female employees. Some called it a masterstroke, others said that it was unfair to the male employees. Yet another section felt it was a great idea but maybe we could replace that with a generic mental health/family leave for all employees, over and above existing leaves, so everyone was appeased. Naturally, every stance on the matter was debatable. But for the purpose of this article, I’ll tell you mine: Period leaves are a great idea. They are not sexist, and women should not be worried that they would appear weak if they ask for a day off to cater to something that is a natural biological occurrence in their bodies as opposed to an illness or disease, for which a sick leave is taken.
Also Read: #Voices: No, Granting Period Leaves To Women Employees Isn’t Sexist And Won’t Hurt Equality. Here’s Why.
So where does Barkha Dutt come in?
In 2017, Barkha Dutt wrote an op-ed for Washington Post, titled, “I’m A Feminist. Giving Women A Day Off For Their Period Is A Stupid Idea.” In the article, Dutt talks about how the idea of a period leave further ‘ghettoizes’ how menstruation is perceived in our country as a taboo. From calling it a “hare-brained idea” to claiming it “trivializes the feminist agenda for equal opportunity, especially in male-dominated professions,” her stance is quite clear—Period pain, annoying that it is, is normal “….but this reality usually demands no more than a Tylenol or Meftal and, if needed, a hot-water bottle.” So bear it and don’t ask for special status. If it’s worse due to some condition like endometriosis, then that’s a health condition so it falls under the ambit of sick leaves. She concludes by saying,
“But for women to use the fight against menstrual taboos as an excuse for special treatment is a disservice to the seriousness of feminism. Stop this sexism. Period.”
But this was 2017, so let’s give Barkha Dutt, feminist, the benefit of doubt. I hoped that she’d recognise the rising number of PCOS cases in women in the past decade, which makes it a very rampant lifestyle disease amongst women today. Heck, I found out about it just three years ago when I was out of nowhere told to get a test done for it. My periods were painful, and I had experienced weight gain, but we’re almost always told to bear that pain and the changes that come with menstruation, so I never questioned it. Maybe Dutt wasn’t aware? Maybe she refused to see the point that when an organisation grants period leaves to its female employees, the onus is on the organisation to ensure that it doesn’t feel like a burden to the other employees. Just as in the case of vacation days or sick leaves.
And most importantly, she might’ve needed a reminder that maybe, just maybe, by trying to deny the basic biological differences between women and men, we were once again falling into the trap of “What will men think if we do this?” So you see, I hoped that her stance would’ve had some time to change.
However, that isn’t the case, as proved by this recent Twitter exchange she had about a job posted by her, where someone pointed out that Dutt didn’t believe in period leave.
— Sigur Rós After Sex (@bigdeekenergyy) September 2, 2020
In response, Barkha Dutt declared that anyone who didn’t agree with her views was free to not apply.
And thus free not to apply surely.. Because yes, we don't offer or believe in period leave.. And no one forcing you to work with us! .
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) September 2, 2020
Cool, message received.
But then, her tweet spanned a whole new line of debate when another Twitter user jumped into the conversation, and opened a whole new can of worms to support Dutt’s views on period leave.
Totally support your view Barkha. Female Homemakers don’t shut the kitchen claiming period leave either.
And looking at the TL of the person you are responding to: our Muslim RW isn’t voting for you as the best journalist in the country as of now 🙂
— Siddhartha Das (@sidharthone) September 2, 2020
You know, this tweet takes me back to my teenage years, when I was still a newly-minted menstruator (is that even a word? Who cares, consider it coined. It sounds so badass, like terminator!). My mother and I were working in the kitchen and she asked me to pick the pooja utensils and go place them in the ‘mandir’. She couldn’t because she was menstruating. Curious, I asked her, “So what do we do when both of us are menstruating at the same time?” She laughed and told me how she asked me to do the chore because it was an option. When there wasn’t an option, she’d just do it herself. Because if not her, then who? Today, my menopausal mother relieves me of all my household duties when I am bleeding. And yet, at times, I help her out despite my pain. Because if not me, then who?
In another instance, I remember being told that if you’re menstruating and there’s a ‘puja’ coming up, all you have to do is fast for an entire day, one day prior to the puja. It’s kind of like a loophole that was invented so that women could do their duties. Because if not women, who’d cook the food for the guests? Who’d clean? Who’d prepare the prashaad?
I’d like to believe, and I’ve been told I am quite right, that women did get relief from household tasks and chores by asking them to rest separately for those 2-3 days. However, because our society loves rolling in the muck that is patriarchy, we turned this practice unto its head into the sexist, misogynist custom that it is today, where women aren’t allowed to visit temples, or eat achaar when they are bleeding. But even now, only because space is a constraint and we still need women to do chores since most men continue to not life a finger to help, the best part of this ‘ancient period leave’ has been altered. So now, women have to do the work as well as be segregated. In that vein, homemakers don’t shut the kitchen, not because they don’t want to, but because if they do, who will take care of their house?
And because their mothers and mothers-in-law also felt the same, they never taught their sons any skills that might reassure their wives, daughters, sisters or mothers that it was okay to take some time off during periods because they could take over the responsibilities themselves. It’s pretty cyclical, but also straightforward.
Also Read: 30 Years Ago, The Bihar Government Introduced Period Leaves For Women Employees. And We Are Still Debating It In 2020
Luckily, we found support in a hopeless place. The responses to the tweet reinstilled my faith that there are still people who understand that admitting that women are different than men and therefore need certain things customised to them is not some big blow to feminism, like Barkha Dutt would have us believe.
For so much of middle class India, being modern is just "allowing" women to put in double the labour while men continue to be toddlers for life.
— Chachi Sharma (@cowbai) September 2, 2020
The fact that “female homemakers” can’t take some time off and devote it to self care says a lot about *you* and your absolute lack of empathy or the ability to take some damn responsibility. What a man-child.
— Palash Agarwal (@palashposts) September 2, 2020
I am qualified to apply for the job and would have really liked to, even though we disagree on many things politically. But the first two days of my period are insufferably bloody, excruciating and worsened by my spine surgery. I can't work at a place that can't understand this.
— Vaishnavi Suresh (@vaishnaviisure1) September 2, 2020
I appreciate you advocate for strong working women. But women do need to take care of themselves during period time. Be it taking rest @ home or having a stressless time during work. forcing them to work during periods is cruality.
— Muddi Palya (Kiran) (@kirangazz) September 2, 2020
Yeah you're just contributing to the problem of forcing anyone who has awful periods to stay out of the workforce or gobble up all their sick leave.
How very progressive of you.
— Plumsicle, Melting (@badaamztish) September 2, 2020
Period leave is not a "special privilege". Women are doing just that, asking for equitable treatment. These benefits that are legal now was not handed over to women just like that. It took conversations, legal fights, protests to get those now legally available rights.
— Ro. (@Laughingmomo) September 3, 2020
I don’t think she said she didn’t suffer; she soldiered. Women did then. We had to be excellent to be thought average.
But I for one don’t perpetuate that; we succeeded being taken seriously.
Now younger women should not have to hide what being female sometimes entails.
— Devi (@Devi_emcube) September 2, 2020
I'm keeping it very simple. Period leaves for women are like reservations for backward classes. Don't bring your absurd argument of unreasonable equality. They just need it.
— Shubh (@LawWaala) September 2, 2020
You're basically 2020 when you say this.
— ek cup chai (@AnchalBtra) September 2, 2020
This last tweet pretty much sums it up for me when your stance against period leave is an argument that it will hurt women’s fight for equality. I thought the whole idea was for women to be equal so we don’t have to be ashamed or hide who we are and what we want to be? And here’s you’re advocating that women hide their pain and plough on so that men don’t feel they’ve been treated unfairly? Yep, this kind of skewed feminism can only happen in 2020.
Thanks but no thanks.
PS: The writer of this article began menstruating in the course of writing it, and had to ask for extra time because cramps don’t know deadlines. She’s debating if she could take another sick leave since she took one just two days ago. If only, there were standard period leave clauses across corporates….