By Callan Shore
Recently, period inequity has received attention in mainstream media with movies like Period End of Sentence winning an Oscar and Nadya Okamoto, founder of Period Movement, becoming a celebrity among activists. However, there is still widespread ignorance on the subject. This ignorance has led to two thirds of poor U.S. menstruators not having access to period supplies.
MISCONCEPTIONS AND PREJUDICE
How often have you seen a non-menstruator recoil at the mention of period symptoms? Many cis men do not even know what a period is until they reach their late teens or twenties. For too long periods have been a taboo subject and a well-kept secret despite the fact that about half of the world’s people experience them. For most menstruators, periods are a monthly experience and can be debilitating if not handled correctly, so we must begin to normalize them and talk about them openly.
One prime example of period prejudice is shown in the movie Period End of Sentence. The movie features a town in India where the menstruators lack access to pads and tampons. They are forced to use dirty rags which they later must bury. The menstruators are not allowed in the temple when they are on their cycle because they are seen as dirty. Unfortunately, this prejudice expands into most countries, including the United States. Not only is it difficult for many menstruators to get pads and tampons, it is even more difficult and expensive to have access to birth control for period cramps or other resources for heavy periods. Additionally, because many of the people making decisions are men who don’t menstruate, taxes remain on tampons and pads while Viagra is tax free.
One of the most marginalized communities of menstruators is the homeless community. Without money to buy period products and the privacy to deal with their cycles, they are put at a serious disadvantage. Homeless menstruators are at times forced to keep tampons in and risk toxic shock syndrome or Cervical cancer because they don’t have enough supplies. One legislative change that is needed is ensuring that homeless shelters provide sanitary products, as they do condoms. Refugee menstruators struggle with similar issues and need also be considered in this discussion.
NOT ALL WOMEN MENSTRUATE, NOT ALL MENSTRUATORS ARE WOMEN.
Look around at any feminist march and you will likely see a sign that says, “no uterus, no opinion,” or hear someone say, “periods are a women’s issue,” but these sayings are problematic and damaging because they exclude the trans and non-binary communities. Many trans women do not get periods and many trans men do. Additionally, these ideas automatically force non-binary folks into a gender category based on whether or not they bleed. Issues that these menstruators face span from the danger of managing their period in the men’s room, to the dysphoria caused by bleeding. One major shift that is needed here is the creation and normalization of gender-neutral bathrooms. If you wish to understand this issue further, read Anthony Belotti’s article on abortion as a trans issue on our Stay Informed page.
Most pads and tampons are made out of a mix or cotton and plastic and are not biodegradable. The average menstruator throws away as many as 15,000 pads and tampons in their life. That being said, sustainability is a privilege and only those with the resources and money should be expected to try less wasteful options. If you do have the ability to manage your period sustainably, here are a few small changes you can make.
1. Try period proof underwear or shorts
2. Use a menstrual cup
3. Try reusable cloth pads
4. Use organic & biodegradable pads or tampons
TAKE A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
With the recent increase in awareness of periods has come some action but little change. For instance, New York recently passed a bill that forces schools, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities to offer free period products, however, the bill has not made much of a difference because it does not provide the money those institutes would need to follow through (Paper Mag). This does not mean that true change is impossible, so here are a few ways you can take action now to get rid of period poverty. Through Nadya Okamoto’s organization Period, you can start a chapter at your high school or college. Through a chapter you can campaign to have sanitary products at your school, hold fundraisers, and spread the word about period poverty (https://www.period.org/chapters). Even without a chapter, though, it is easy to take these actions in your community. Another small way you can help is by choosing to support brands that prioritize sustainability and the needs of menstruators. Additionally, donating period supplies and money to organizations such as The Homeless Period, The Red Box Project, and Bloody Good Period will make a substantial difference. Lastly, it is imperative that we educate ourselves on the subject fully; below are some links to get you started. Let’s change period poverty into period power!