Bristol company Coexist have caused a media sensation by discussing a ‘period policy’ for its majority female workforce – the shocking idea that women who need to take time off to deal with menstrual pain should be able to.
While most coverage was supportive or ambivalent, some commentators such as the callers on LBC radio slammed it as ‘a very convenient girly card’, and unfair to men. It seems acknowledging that severe period pain, is, well, painful is still a radical idea in 2016. And that’s not even taking the feminist politics into account.
Bex Baxter, a director of Coexist and facilitator and life coach, is not entirely sure why this story has been so big, but wonders if it could be the phrase ‘period policy’ itself.
“The word ‘period’ represents the core of life – what it is to be a woman, and ‘policy’ represents the patriarchal mechanism to control people to make sure they don’t abuse the system,” Baxter says. The combination of these two words presents us with an unexpected combination of ideas that seem to be in tension with each other.
Coexist, who manage Hamilton House in Stokes Croft, announced their plan to create a period policy for their staff in February, aiming to recognise and plan work around employee’s natural cycles.
The Coexist policy is currently in process and will address all natural cycles, including the menstrual cycle. Baxter says that even in it’s most basic form, any period policy at all – even voluntary – is radical, “We offer choice. Some women might not want to take it, but we will support women if they think it’s beneficial to them.”
“It is revolutionary… It’s about truth.”
Headlines latching on to the idea that women could be given time off work due to bad period pains have almost universally missed the wider point. They’ve instead highlighted that capital is the priority as opposed to health, menstruation has been medicalised, and talking about periods in general is still taboo. For Baxter it’s much bigger than one day off work a month.
“It is revolutionary. It is groundbreaking work. It’s about truth. The reality is that women have periods and they shouldn’t be a problem – they’re not a sickness.” Baxter said, “Sickness can occur when natural cycles have been repressed, because women are not being given permission to recognise and work with these cycles.”
Behind this policy is a way of valuing our natural cycles in all aspects of our lives – not just the workplace, suggesting that humans are cyclical beings trying to fit into a linear society.
Baxter thinks we are misinformed about our menstrual cycles:
“Even for women it’s taboo, they are embarrassed and ashamed of their periods, feeling that these natural cycles repress them, making them the weaker sex. This is old debris but still in our consciousness.”
The power of our menstrual cycle can be used intelligently for emotional help. “When this happens,” Baxter said, “women become powerhouses.” Could this be the beginning of a self-care revolution?
As Baxter argues, resistance is an opportunity for change and Coexist are happy to be the first to the party, even if they are not exactly sure why this story has been so explosive. “If we at Coexist can begin to pull it apart, then it might give other people confidence to explore it for themselves.”
Baxter confirms that this could be the beginning of something bigger, “Women in pain is almost missing the point, but it is a starting point. I don’t mind wherever anyone is in the conversation as long as the conversation is happening.”