By Lippi Lal
Recently, digital media company Culture Machine made a pioneering move of granting paid period leave to women on the first day of “that time of the month”. Not surprisingly, the move, widely publicised through a social media video, attracted both support and flak. Some of its most vehement opponents were women and many feminist women.
They argued that this kind of leave was frivolous, an unnecessary privilege, and that also it would hurt the feminist movement.
After all, if we are asking for equal rights, we had “no right”to ask for “privileges” that men weren’t entitled to. Many women, already apologetic around maternity leave, fumbled in sheer embarrassment as to how this one more day of leave would make women appear to the world: needy, weak, drama queens who need a one day vacation to do what? Comfort their uterus?
Angry arguments ensued on social media going back and forth about who was “right” and who was “wrong”.
The arguments against this policy are a personal opinion and opinions are so strongly entwined with our identity, that I have long since realised the futility of countering them. It simply creates resistance, as no one likes to be shaken out of their certainty, yours truly included.
So, I am going to ask you a few questions instead.
What is your image/concept of strength? Of power? What is your image/concept of weakness?
How did this image come to be?
This is not a survey, so I will let you contemplate these questions in your own private space and time, but for now, I will answer them as the mind and voice of the dominant collective. The mind and voice of the patriarchy.
If we go by the tenets of patriarchy, then strength is viewed as physiological strength, mental and physiological resilience, courage, the ability to suffer quietly and with minimum display of “fuss”, to bear great pain, to not show our true emotions (especially sadness), and to not complain unless absolutely necessary, and necessary means only when our life is in danger. Strength is also viewed as Male.
In the patriarchal world women are weak, and lack courage, and when they do display “strength” or “courage” they are referred to in exclusively male terms (“Wow! That woman really has ‘balls’ or “She is the man in the house” or “My daughter is just like the ‘son’ I never had”).
There are almost no references to feminine strength whatsoever, either in language or concept. So you never hear things like “Wow! That man is a tough cookie, he really has ‘vagina’!” or “Mohan is like the daughter I never had,” for example.
Power means power over. Those that are viewed as powerful must necessarily display a dominion over all things.
Mass media is abundant with images of what “power “looks like in our world, usually male, white, rich and well-connected in that order.
So how did this image, this concept come to be?
Without getting into vast historical and anthropological details, quite simply, it has been the norm for centuries and therefore deeply ingrained into our individual and collective subconscious, passed down from generation to generation to both men and women.
It is so prominent, so permeating, and so automatic that we barely know its there any more but much of our misogyny is rooted in it’s harshness and rejection of feminine power.
Strength and power, patriarchal style, therefore have become the double sided stick we use to beat ourselves with in the name of self discipline, hard work and a grin and bear it culture.
So far so good, but what does this have to do with the protest against the one day period leave?
I know personally, many of the women, especially feminist women, who vehemently came out in anger and disgust at this leave.
Many of them, I know to be highly ethical, sincere and yes “hard working”. Their anger and mistrust of this idea was coming from a genuine place. These are people, who in absence of all transportation, will take a hang glider if necessary to ensure they reach their meeting on time.They are dedicated, no-nonsense professionals I respect and admire, except for one thing.
They are in a trap.
A very clever trap. So well designed that they don’t even know they are there. I didn’t either. Till one day I saw it and freed myself from its clutches.
My journey from harshness to extreme self care and loving kindness
A few years ago, I burnt out badly. I had worked myself to exhaustion, and my business and personal life were crumbling under the weight of my own collapse.
It was during this breakdown that I had a massive epiphany about how harsh we were on ourselves, especially as women. Our harshness showed itself in many ways.
From pushing through pain to complete our goals at great cost to our bodies and minds, to judging ourselves and others to confirm to strict, impossible-to-meet standards, to beating ourselves for not being enough of this and that and the worst, for beating ourselves up for being well, women.
I saw my own deeply-internalised misogyny that lead to this harsh, punishing behaviour.
It ranged from the subtlest of beliefs and actions to more overt ones.
Continuing to work even when I was ill or emotionally upset, “putting on a brave front” even when what I actually wanted to do was cuddle into my pillow and cry, dismissing my needs as frivolous even when they were begging for my attention. I was strangling myself with the world’s concept of strength, as women have been doing for centuries at great cost to themselves.
I recalled many stories of women triumphantly declaring how tough they were because they jumped right back to work after a painful C section or worked harder than their male colleagues just to prove that they too were worthy (worthy of what? Of all things, simply, their basic rights to employment). How proud they were because they had never cried at work (in a bid to prove to men that women are not just frivolous emotional creatures).
I saw these same types of declarations again as a protest against the one day period leave.The argument was, well, we can “push through” far worse as women than period pain, so what the heck is this stupid holiday for?
I realise that in many ways the feminists are right.
Detractors of the feminist movement are going to have a field day calling this initiative out as “evidence” of feminine inferiority and unsuitability to the workforce, and therein lies the true problem.
Gentleness, vulnerability and the need for self care arising from this very tender space are being viewed from a very warped perspective to begin with.
Why vulnerability is power
I once saw a very unusual type of tarot card that changed my whole perspective on vulnerability in a matter of minutes. The “strength card” showed a pair of hands in chains, shrinking into a vulnerable fetal position thereby slipping out of the chains as a result.
The realisation was powerful: One type of strength was using sheer physical strength to break free, another lesser acknowledged strength, was that of vulnerability that also led to freedom.
No one way was better than another. They each just were empowering in their own way.
In my own experience, I have seen the truth in this. When I am vulnerable enough to acknowledge my pain, cry, yell or even get angry, albeit in a safe way, I am freed and connected back to my own power in that moment.
When I try to gloss over my pain by pushing through it, grinning and bearing it, I am actually left more fragile, as the universe, in its eagerness to expose falsehoods to those who will see, soon sends a facade crumbling life experience my way.
The benefits of self compassion and loving kindness
The benefits of practicing self compassion and kindness have far-reaching effects we cannot even fathom. At the very least they fuel creativity and innovation and practicing them may even save your life someday.
I am a Shamanic healer and I handle several cases of chronic illness that could have been avoided with better self care.
In a world filled with violence and hatred, we could all use a dose of gentleness.We don’t need to wait till we are in severe distress and agony to take care of ourselves.
I personally love this idea of a one day period leave because it indirectly endorses tenderness and feminine self care. It also makes room in the corporate arena for the often ignored unique needs of women. Taking time off to nurture the discomfort and pain many face at that time of the month, is an act of extreme self care rooted in self compassion.
For those that believe this a frivolous luxury, please consider, that the very fact that women have to prove they are worthy of equal rights by riding roughshod over their personal needs is highly misogynistic in itself.
If harshness is the only way to be productive, then we should stop using cell phones, taking cabs, and using washing machines altogether. I can imagine how these very things were thought to be frivolous at one time too.
Also consider, that women have always worked extra hard for very little acknowledgement for way too long, and quite frankly if misogynists cant see that, and never have, they never will either.
They don’t want to see it and we don’t have to prove it to them.
Sometimes, even the most hardcore feminists like me, have to acknowledge our internalised misogyny and heal it .
We need to stop “machoing” all over ourselves and this initiative is taking the first step in this direction. At the end of the day what should count is the employee’s productivity.
Lippi Lal is an entrepreneur, a shamanic healer and a second time student, who loves to comment, write and make videos on issues that relate to feminine empowerment and freedom.