Caroline Swell, 32, told Functionally Dead Thursday that she “literally could not imagine” commuting into the office on the first day of her period. “Did I actually used to do that?” she asked. “You’re joking.”
We’re not joking. Merely 12 short months ago, it was completely routine for employers to expect people who menstruate to report to oppressive, in-person corporate work environments outside the home. Menstruating workers were expected to sit for hours in uncomfortable desk chairs under unflattering, headache-inducing fluorescents while wearing tight-fitting, button-fly “professional” pants. Shockingly, a face full of make-up and uncomfortable shoes were also, many moons ago, the norm.
“How did I even function?” asked Caroline, curled up on her couch wrapped in a weighted blanket, hot water bottle draped across her belly. Then, with a far-away look in her eye: “Come to think of it, I do recall popping a handful of Motrin and hurtling onto the R train as if my organs were not under explosive attack from the inside. Now the journey from my bed to the couch is about the furthest commute I can handle.”
Caroline now maintains her “professional” look over Zoom by occasionally combing her bangs and applying a smudge of tinted Chapstick. Zoom’s “Touch Up My Appearance” function handles most of the responsibility that used to fall on a thick coat of liquid foundation. She admits to applying mascara “on a good day,” but hardly any period days qualify as “good.”
At this point in the pandemic, Caroline has donated her entire collection of “professional” pants to her neighborhood’s “Buy Nothing” Facebook group. “It was a toss up between that and torching all that houndstooth in a bonfire,” she admitted. “If it doesn’t have an elastic waistband, I’m simply not going to wear it.”
Shoes are completely out of the question as well—she now has an extensive collection of hand-knitted slippers which “go with everything.”
“Since switching to work-from-home, it’s not just my wardrobe that’s changed. I’ve abandoned tampons completely for an eco-friendly combo of a Deva Cup and Thinx period underwear,” she explained. “Everything is reusable, it’s so much better for the environment. And I save money, too. Tampons are taxed as a luxury item, and that really adds up without all the freebies I used to take from work.”
“The Deva Cup & Thinx combo is also more comfortable, relatively speaking. But this system is only doable from the comfort of my own home. Emptying out my Deva Cup in the employee bathroom would be, um, a hot mess. Waddling from the stall to the communal sink carrying a cup of my own period blood would be frowned upon, I think.”
“Have you ever tried to rinse out a Deva Cup in a no-touch, automatic sensor sink?” she railed. “It’s seriously awkward. Deva Cups were not designed to be waved around hither and thither in order to activate a motion sensor faucet. The countertop would end up looking like a crime scene. Definitely a biohazard, to say the least. I just saw on TikTok that some people are rinsing out their Thinx and using the run-off period blood as plant fertilizer. I’m all for sustainability, but I’m not sure I’m ready to water my plants with menstrual blood. Also, all my plants are dead.”
Menstruating from home does have some drawbacks. Caroline has resorted to sitting on a towel to protect her custom upholstered West Elm furniture from a “leak situation.” “I selected this cream-colored palette for minimalist relaxation, not a 24/7 work week. I paid, like, several thousand dollars for this sectional and chair combo. Can you imagine if I bled all over this? This living room is my entire world now.”
The interview was cut abruptly short when Caroline had to take a call a full year into a global pandemic from her boss who wanted to know why everything on his computer had a slightly bigger font.
Lindsey Hope Pearlman lives in midtown Manhattan with her boyfriend, her houseplants, and the ghosts of industrial capitalism. Instagram: https://instagram.com/lhpification. Twitter: https://twiter.com/lhpistweeting.
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