Remember the day when you were about thirteen years old wearing your favorite pink jeans and strutting down the 7th grade hallways that reeked of junior high boys’ Axe spray when someone stopped you with a horrific look on her face to tell you that a giant red puddle had formed on the back of your pants? Yep, it was your first period. So in a mixture of both excitement and fear, you rushed to the bathroom to see for yourself and it turns out that Jenna from science class wasn’t trying to get revenge on you for spilling the mixture in lab last week––you actually did get your period. You frantically search the bathroom for a pad or a tampon only to find that dingy looking metal menstrual hygiene dispenser staring back at you, prompting you to feed it your lunch money. Like most thirteen year olds, you weren’t just carrying change in your pockets in the odd event you would be charged to pay for a very basic, necessary hygiene item. So you do what you must and you run around the hallways with your off-theme Valentine’s Day red and pink pants searching for a friend to help you out. Sound familiar?
I wanted to share my first period story with you to hopefully give you a little laugh, but more importantly I wanted to show how this experience is not unique to me, rather it points to an injustice that millions of womxn face: the lack of free menstrual hygiene products in public schools. Why should womxn be charged for tampons and pads while we would find the idea of charging someone for hand soap in a public restroom to be both laughable and ridiculous? It is absolutely, without question, a complete necessity that public restrooms are stoked with free menstrual hygiene products in order to create clean and healthy environments, but just as importantly, to give womxn the confidence and support that they deserve as a basic human right.
One important underlying structural injustice underlying the lack of free menstrual hygiene products in public schools is the stigmatization and societal shaming of periods as a mechanism to uphold the patriarchal structure of our society. By not creating free access to menstrual hygiene products, society is devaluing and ignoring the basic needs of womxn. Further, it is an attempt to disempower womxn by allowing companies to quite literally profit off of their basic needs. While many men’s restrooms are stoked with mints, toothpicks, and lotion womxn still find themselves frantically digging through their belongings in an attempt to find spare change for an unexpected visit from their monthly friend. This horrific truth unveils the gender inequality that is still rooted in the foundations of our society and how, yes, even in the 21st century we are still facing gender-based discrimination and inequality.
This leads to the discussion of how periods are still largely considered a taboo in society. By ignoring the basic need of supplying menstruators with menstrual care products, society is treating periods as if they were not a normal, natural part of life that should be celebrated and talked about. This can be likened to charging someone to use toilet paper as if the body discarding waste was not a natural function. Creating this distorted perception of periods that discourages conversation around them is toxic to womxn and can carry hugely negative consequences such as a low self-esteem.
The last aspect of the lack of free access to menstrual hygiene products in public school restrooms that I want to problematize is how this social inequality disproportionately affects the poorer members of society. Womxn of lower socioeconomic statuses cannot afford to be charged for basic necessities that concern their human rights. When someone is struggling to keep a roof above their head, the last thing they need to worry about is paying to uphold the patriarchal underpinnings of society that wish to disempower them and further enhance their financial difficulties.
Is your blood pressure rising yet from frustration and anger? Mine certainly is and I hope yours is too. The lack of free menstrual hygiene products in public school restrooms is a huge injustice and as powerful womxn, we must raise our voices and let it be known that we will not, under any circumstances, fall victim to these injustices. Instead, we will protest and bring awareness to this issue until it is changed and the thought of making someone pay for menstrual hygiene products in public school restrooms is just as laughable as making someone pay for hand soap.
Let your voice be heard,
Viv For Your V
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