Culture Machine, a young start up with a network of YouTubers connecting 22 million subscribers and an average of 0.5 billion views per month, creates video content for large corporate brands and helps them gain publicity through social media. The organization thus aptly wears the tag line, “Entertainment for Internet Generation.”
What is entertainment for internet generation is a rather worrying topic to research about. For some, trolling is a jolly good entertainment. A book is warranted on that but today let’s talk about the likes of Culture Machine and feminism.
Who else but Culture Machine would have better known the massive viral-ability of a YouTube video featuring young 20 something urban girls speaking in English, using OMG and LOL in every sentence and talking about how they want to just have chocolate and watch Netflix on their first day of period who are then saved by benevolent do-gooder bosses by announcing a token gesture of giving the day off. Enter their new leave policy, announced on YouTube, of giving the option of first day of period leave to its female workforce. The video ends with an attempt to make this a rights movement, ‘Let’s legitimize the FOP (First day of Period) leave policy across the country – An Initiative By Culture Machine,” followed by a signature campaign addressed to Women and Child Ministry. Soon the idea caught up and Kerala based media Mathrubhumi also announced ‘First Day Of Period Leave’ to its employees.
Both the organization claim to have taken the decision to break the social taboo against menstruation and help initiate conversation around it. It seems every other corporate brand is initiating feminist movements, in a socio-political milieu where talking about women issues have become both a fad as well as a taboo, making it the right subject for ruffling feathers and grabbing eye balls from all sides. And standpoint and subjectivity can go take a hike.
How many women’s real subjectivity is represented by organizations like Culture Machine and their policies? Are they truly in a position to initiate conversation around menstruation taboo? Have they gathered enough data to convince themselves, more than any other stake holders, that this measure would help women’s greater workforce participation?
Rights movements cannot be forced from top, it has to come from within as a resistance to the systemic violence and oppression faced by those at the bottom of the social order. The first day of period leave policy initiative by Culture Machine seems to be concerning the urban upper class female workforce and is not inclusive of the larger workforce engaged in the unorganized sector – the construction workers, daily wagers, agricultural labourers, domestic maids.
We are yet to come up with job security, basic leave policies, maternity leaves for these women. A need for first day of period off so that they can go home and indulge in chocolates and Netflix may not exactly be on their priority list. Rather, taking the day off would mean losing that day’s wage, especially given the fact that the leave is optional. What they need therefore is access to clean toilets at their workplace, and not just on menstruating days. Most upper class upper caste household don’t even allow their domestic maids to use the toilet. They cannot afford sanitary pads and don’t have access to basic hygienic products during menstruation. Before talking about period leave policies we have to incorporate these basics into the unorganized sector only then the period leave would fit into the narrative of the rights movement.
Even within the class and sector Culture Machine and the likes belong, any employee with demanding job responsibility would know that “take the day off” is not exactly a great statement to hear from your boss. Bosses would often tell this to non-performing employees or those having a personal issue on a given day. It reflects badly on the said employee’s records and gives the troubled employee a rude message that nobody wants to deal with your personal issues, take them home and come back refreshed without any personal baggage. Menstruation is not something we can deal with simply by sitting at home (contrary to popular belief, women don’t want to go home all the time). It is part of our life, very much like breathing, eating and defecating.
Giving a day off is neither an intelligent way to initiate conversation around menstruation taboo nor does it benefit majority of the female workforce across various sectors. What it really does is put the focus back on the unique physical aspects women are born with, and reinforces the idea that those are by default her limitations. Which is simply not true. A massive amount of women across the world achieve humongous proportions of physically challenging tasks during their period days – from scientists to space travelers to sports women to mountaineers and trekkers and many more. On the other hand many women and men have unique medical conditions which they fight every day to attend to their professional duties.
I myself deal with hypothyroid coupled with GERD and IBS which makes my morning extremely difficult, with nausea, stomach cramps. In addition my digestive system is unpredictable which means I can have acid reflux any time of the day which makes me sick to the core, drowsy and disoriented. On the other hand I can function well with a Meftal Spas on my first or second day of period. The point here is that humans have different physical conditions and capabilities and all workplace should be sensitive to accommodate them. But to label the entire women workforce physically too weak to perform during periods is not realistic.
To break the taboo around menstruation we need to first understand that it is not a problem which women need to take home and deal with on her own. We need the male dominated work environment and our male colleagues to be equal partners in dealing with it. Keeping a bank of sanitary pads in the office would be great gesture to start with. If a woman suddenly stains her clothes or seat due to overflow help her clean it instead of feeling gross about the blood or making her feel ashamed of it. If a woman is taking a momentary pause in her conversation in a staff meeting let her have it because she is probably passing a large clot. Make the office environment so conducive to talk about periods that she can have that moment and laugh about it. Every organization should inculcate these sensitivity towards women’s menstruation during the employees induction, these values should be part of their office manual and codes of conduct.
Lastly, such policies reinforce the patriarchal idea that women are best suited for homely activities. That by nature they are incapable of equal productivity, but they are having it all too easy as more and more policies and laws favour women. In truth women are not having it easy. Having a day off due to menstruation doesn’t take away women’s real challenges in career ambitions. It is mere tokenism that doesn’t address deeply held patriarchal notions that demarks home as woman’s space and the workplace as man’s.