Question from a reader: I remember learning about menstruation leave – as I recall you could take one day a month off with pay to accommodate – in Japan and thinking how great/dangerous that was. Does it still exist? I think it’s dangerous as it sort of says “poor weak woman, not as capable as a man” and great because sometimes it’s just so energy draining that it would be nice to stay home on the couch with a heating pad. What is/was the attitude of men in Japan about this?
Answer: It does exist. It’s not in my contract, but I know another city-employed foreign woman who does have it in her contract. I have actually never either seen a case of a woman taking the leave nor heard any man’s opinion on it, but I suspect it’s a non-issue. People don’t seem as creeped out by menstruation here: maxipad ads are all over TV, and people don’t hesitate to mention periods in conversation. Once, hanging out with my male best friend and some of his guy friends, I thought I had gotten myself into an embarrassment when somebody suggested going to the public bath. I couldn’t go because I was on my period, so I desperately whispered my problem to my best friend, only for him to announce it out loud without anyone blinking an eye: “Oh, it’s her woman’s day. Let’s go another time.”
So my guess is that menstruation is a benefit with no negative strings attached. For one thing, I doubt people ever really take it except in the most extreme cases (as Japanese employees have a tendency to avoid taking days off anyway to show loyalty to their employer), which would mean no resentment would arise over perceived overuse of menstruation leave, but having it there is still a nice gesture and a last resort.
Japan does, by the way, have paid maternity leave (like most developed countries but unlike the U.S.), even though as I’ve previously mentioned many women are pressured into a non-career track where maternity leave is not even an issue. The culture seems generally less anti-body than America. Toilet-related matters aren’t taboo; I’ve even heard people ask for advice on constipation in mixed company. Although I’ve got to say the obsession with skinny is even worse over here, I don’t see as much pure body-hating in Japan.
Crossposted at The Josei Thing