You know that moment when you’re in class or in a meeting and suddenly…
Startled, you freeze; slowly averting your eyes towards your colleagues while praying you can make a clean break for the bathroom.
But you can’t just run out. First, you need to strategize.
How will you get your tampon into your sleeve, or your pad into your pocket, without anyone noticing? And how in the world will you make it to the bathroom in time before leaking through your dress?
You want to walk out like this was just another bathroom break, but lord knows the chances of there being a tampon or pad machine in the bathroom are slim, and walking out with your entire bag is sure to raise some eyebrows.
But you must do this quick or you risk paramount embarrassment, and that’s sure as hell not a risk you’re willing to take.
So as your male colleague continues taking up all the space, you manage to get your hand into your bag, letting out a sigh of sweet relief upon finding the resources you so desperately need.
Sliding them into your sleeve you excuse yourself, and gracefully walk out of the room without breaking a single sweat.
Despite significant strides in gender equality, periods remain extremely taboo in U.S. culture. Women are still socialized not to speak of them in public and pretend they don’t exist, all while lacking the institutional and monetary support required to successfully maintain this innocuous secret.
And what do I mean, exactly?
At Columbia University SIPA where I went to school, 60% of the student body is female and yet there isn’t a single tampon machine in any of the bathrooms, despite repeated student requests.
The same holds true for government institutions like the U.S. Peace Corps, whereas a volunteer (2013-2015) one of my biggest challenges was getting access to tampons and pads. Unlike male condoms which are included in Peace Corps’ health kits along with medicine and bandages, tampons and pads are not included despite women making up 63% of volunteers.
According to a PCV who inquired about the Peace Corps’ lack of support in this area, the “office of Health Services (OHS) responded that they do not consider tampons, pads or diva cups as core health items and so they don’t provide them to post medical offices.”
But male condoms? Male condoms are always provided. I guess sex can’t be avoided but periods can, am I right?
While some strides have been made in this area, including Dominican-American Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras’ legislation, which “guarantees free menstrual products for women and girls in New York City public schools, shelters, and jails,” there is still a lot left to do.
“While most states in the U.S. exempt nonluxury items like groceries and prescription drugs from sales taxes because they are considered necessities, the vast majority of states still tax sanitary products” as if they’re luxuries women can opt to live without.
So not only are women earning a mere 82% of what men earn on average, without accounting for race, but we’re also taxed more heavily than men for the things we need.
And it adds up.
According to the Huffington Post “the costs associated with menstruation – from tampons to pads to pain meds each month – can stack up to about $18,000 over a woman’s lifetime.” That’s $18,000 men don’t have to spend, and which could make a big difference especially for low-income women.
It is beyond time we stop asking women to hide their periods and finally offer them the real social, institutional and monetary support they need to adequately manage them. We have periods, the world knows it, and it should be perfectly commonplace for us to walk out of a bathroom, meeting or class, tampon or pad in hand, without a single ounce of shame.