Can I Tell My Boss I’m Going Home Because of Menstrual Cramps, or Should I Make Up an Excuse?

Sensible answers to the questions of modern manhood.
Aug. 13 2014 5:33 PM

Can I Tell My Boss I Have Menstrual Cramps?

Or do I need to make up a white lie about why I’m working from home?

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

I know that your column is for modern manhood, and this is a lady question, but both my bosses are male, and I think that’s pretty common for a lot of women in my situation. When experiencing extreme, debilitating cramps or other symptoms from menses, is it better to make up a white lie or speak the truth as to why I need to work from home? It feels strange telling my bosses I am on my period, but it also feels strange lying to them regularly about “feeling ill.” Plus, it might add up to them thinking I am a consistently sickly person, rather than someone who just needs to wear some goddamn sweatpants for a day.

Thank you for your question.

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You and your bosses ought to be having as few conversations as possible about your body and what it discharges. Likewise, your relationship with your reproductive system is none of your employer’s concern, I believe, though a scan of the headlines suggests that the point is in dispute. Nonetheless, my first rule for this kind of thing is that a gentleman generally refrains from commenting on uterine matters. Oh, sure, he picks up certain ideas along the way, and an expectant father achieves a certain conversance with cervical topics, but mostly he keeps his mouth shut. The ideal gentleman expresses himself on the subject of women’s reproductive health by giving enough money to Planned Parenthood that they invite him to cocktail parties, where he sparklingly talks about other topics.

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

But it’s not a big deal. If I were your boss, and you came into my office asking if you could leave early and work from home because you had bad cramps, I’d say, “Oh, of course. I hope you feel better soon,” and maybe make a sheepish offer of Advil.

If I were you, however, I’d avoid the subject. Who benefits by bringing it up? How does it harm anyone to shade over the truth here? I think it’s OK to shroud the red tent with a white lie.

If you don’t get severe cramps every month, then you might try piggybacking on whatever bug has recently gone around the office. Otherwise, I suggest, at the risk of overkill, concocting a migraine headache. Migraines can last for hours or for days; they’re famously disruptive to work schedules and social calendars. Also, it seems somehow permissible to use a migraine as an excuse because—well, I hear they’re awful, but—they’re not contagious and they don’t generally snowball into anything fatal, right? There’s no special worry about the mortality of the migraineur. Further, some back-on-the-envelope cultural analysis suggests some mystery and glamour to the ailment. It’s a serious person’s malady, with a Didion tinge of thoughtful drama.

I wish you the best of luck with your ruse!

When, if ever, should a gentleman honk his car horn? Clearly, one ought to honk to prevent a collision, and one ought not honk out of mere annoyance, but there seems to be a large gray area. For example, at times a gentleman can express disappointment in the behavior of someone else, not to prevent an acute instance of misbehavior, but rather in the hope that future behavior will improve.

Thank you for your question.

The language of the California Vehicle Code is quite representative of nationwide legal standards:

27001.  (a) The driver of a motor vehicle when reasonably necessary to insure safe operation shall give audible warning with his horn.

(b) The horn shall not otherwise be used, except as a theft alarm system

Here are some noteworthy implications of that rule:

If you are experiencing brake failure, it would be quite rude not to alert the people toward whom you are uncontrollably hurtling by pumping your horn frantically.

If a snoozy driver drifts into your lane, please blast a sharp wake-up call in his direction.

If you are a teenager picking up a date and you would like to give the young lady’s parents “audible warning” that you’re slightly dodgy, without even having to show your punk face at the door, then by all means: Beep, beep!

Has it been at least four seconds since the light turned green? Has the foremost car at the intersection still not caught on to that fact? They you may lightly tap your horn to sound a cordial alert: “Oh, hey!”

Did a kid chase a ball into the street? You owe him a scolding honk and a sorrowful glare.

That last sort of honking—the disappointed sort—really only achieves its corrective goal if the person being honked at has a sense of shame, and many of the adult motorists at whom you might be tempted to sound your horn are not equipped with that mechanism. That’s why they’re driving so poorly in the first place. There’s really no point in attempting the maneuver. It’s just a negative critique, and so the honker finds himself disobeying a guideline laid down by Popular Mechanics in the course of delivering instructions for fixing a dead horn: “Blowing your horn as a sign of sheer displeasure is totally inappropriate.”

For the record, the Gentleman Scholar recommends a short paper on car horns written by Eugene Garfield, the information scientist described as “the grandfather of Google.” In 1983, Garfield published “The Tyranny of the Horn—Automobile, That Is,” which looked back to the early history of automotive warning systems—including a suggestion that “motorists shoot Roman candles ahead” to forewarn horse-drawn carriages—and surveyed academic work on the subject of honking and aggression: Apparently, you will behave less impatiently toward cars loitering at green lights if you have very recently experienced an emotion incompatible with anger, such as “empathy” (after seeing a pedestrian go by on crutches ...) or “amusement” (... in a clown costume …) or “mild sexual arousal” (... while wearing red short shorts).

Garfield’s conclusion? “I am confident that taking away people’s horns would reduce, rather than increase, accidents. … One wonders if in most instances horn-honking isn’t a poor substitute for simply slowing down.” I suggest that we’d all do well to replace the vast majority of horn-honking with sotto voce commentary on the ineptitude and venality of our fellow man, and I specifically recommend Depraved and Insulting English as an aid to developing a vocabulary worthy of all the horrid gongoozlers clogging the roadways.

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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