The XX Factor

Two Simple Proposals for When a Co-Worker Regularly Bleeds Onto Office Furniture

“Linda, I need to tell you something … ”

This week, Reddit has the women of Slate pondering a question we never thought anyone would have to ask: What should you do when a co-worker regularly leaves menstrual stains on office furniture? In the popular women’s-oriented subreddit TwoXChromosomes, a woman using the username Awkwardstink complained about a co-worker who smells noticeably of menstrual blood and leaves bloodstains on chairs “just about every month now.”

Over the course of two updates, the plot thickened (sorry!). Awkwardstink left the co-worker, “Jennifer,” a note informing her that “there have been some complaints in the office about a lack of personal hygiene” and that she’d left a bag of pads and tampons in the bathroom for Jennifer’s personal use. Jennifer complained to their (male) boss, who “told her that the note was just about the nicest way to handle such a situation.”

The following week, the two co-workers hashed it out in a heated conversation. Jennifer said that she had learned from her mom that it was OK to wear pads for more than a day at a time (!), and demanded that Awkwardstink personally supply her with pads and tampons for the foreseeable future.

To get a full sense of the dysfunction of the poster’s office, you really have to read all three chapters of this epic (and perhaps ongoing) miniseries. It’s very possible that Jennifer is deeply troubled and that her colleagues are doing their best to handle a delicate situation. However, there are two important lessons we all can draw from the saga of Jennifer and the Bloodied Chairs.

First, every workplace should provide free tampons and pads as a benefit to its menstruating employees. It boggles my mind that Jennifer’s boss didn’t take the initiative to order a slew of pads and tampons, put it outside the women’s restroom, and announce the supplies as a new company benefit. It wouldn’t have solved whatever is going on with Jennifer, but if you’re a boss, it’s in your best interest to make it as easy as possible for women in your office to to manage their periods. Having sanitary products readily available makes it easier for women to focus on their work instead of worrying about whether they’re bleeding through the makeshift wad of toilet paper they’ve stuffed in their underwear, and it will make it less likely that they’ll bleed all over your furniture, Ani DiFranco–style.

The second lesson is social rather than policy-oriented, and it’s something that many women (and men!) understand intuitively. If you see someone bleeding through her clothes, the kindest thing to do is pull her aside, tell her what’s going on, and offer to help her find feminine hygiene products to stanch the flow and a sweater to wrap around her waist to hide the evidence. In 99 percent of cases, the recipient of this information will be grateful for your intervention. Same goes for food on your face, food in your teeth, open zippers, and bad cases of button-down boob gap. Don’t write a note. Don’t conspire with others. Just go straight to the source. It’s not that hard to have somebody’s back.