Periods are a pain – calling them “shark week” or hiding tampons up your sleeve won’t help with that. But there is something that might: a Student Government initiative that would put free pads and tampons in bathrooms across campus.
As a university, we ought to support this initiative, not just for what it does but for what it stands for.
Being caught off guard in the bathroom isn’t just embarrassing – it’s inhibitive. Without backup in the form of a friend (or a friendly stranger), makeshift solutions like rolled-up toilet paper must suffice, further adding to the discomfort of a lousy situation. That is, unless your outfit is already ruined, forcing you to run back home and find an old pair of pants that fit before you can head to work, class or that big presentation.
This is an issue of self-care as well as public health. How can we, as a university, even begin to embrace equality if half of our population deals with this dreaded song and dance, even if once in a while?
In addition to serving a practical purpose, the SG initiative also aims to normalize something that, even in 2018, is shrouded in secrecy. We call tampons and pads “feminine products,” not only falsely equating menstruation to femininity but writing off these items as “other” – something only women ought to worry about, as if basic hygiene isn’t a universal goal.
Furthermore, euphemisms we’re exposed to since childhood – “lady troubles,” a “special friend” – sugarcoat the reality of menstruation and send a loud, clear message to those who experience it: Don’t be specific, don’t be graphic and by all means don’t talk honestly about what’s going on “down there,” in your body. This kind of vague terminology sets the stage for the disconnect many young girls and women feel from their bodies.
In adulthood, the period grows to be less embarrassing (when others outgrow the “Are you PMSing?” phase), but that initial shame never really goes away. Forty-two percent of women have felt shamed for having their period, according to underwear company Thinx. Many will go out of their way to get tampons and pads from point A to point bathroom, tucking tampons into sleeves, or toting entire backpacks along with them to hide the products inside.
There’s nothing wrong or remotely graphic about carrying a pad or tampon to the bathroom, yet videos showing girls how to hollow out hairspray cans and candy boxes to turn into incognito carriers garner millions of views.
So if you don’t have a period and have never really noticed others dealing with theirs, well, that’s by design.
Of course, these problems barely scrape the surface of how a period can negatively affect and even debilitate a person, or how access to essentials like pads and tampons can positively affect them.
Condoms are offered for free around campus – as they should be – but if we can fund resources for safe sex, surely we can fund the bare-bones solution to a sometimes burdensome situation faced by more than half of the school.
Maybe, though, it’s more about the message than the actual usage. If a bowl of condoms reinforces the idea of practicing safe sex every time you see it, then perhaps free, readily accessible pads and tampons in university bathrooms can impart a spirit of empathy – a message that we care for our community, that we want to make living, learning and working here more comfortable for all.
If nothing else, let this initiative compel you to care for the community in similar ways. You don’t need to have a period to help those who do. Follow the lead of organizations like Girl Up UMiami, which recently collected period essentials for Miami Rescue Mission. Or donate to #HappyPeriod, a Los Angeles-born initiative devoted to bringing these products to homeless or impoverished communities (including teens, veterans and people who are non-binary). And like those, there are many organizations working to provide hygiene products to those who cannot afford them.
And we shouldn’t stop there. In addition to filling out SG’s surveys on the period initiative, let’s seek out ways to make campus bathrooms better and more informative. Bathroom signage that talks about mental health or “It’s On Us” resources can help turn these spaces of vulnerability into centers of empowerment, where people feel equipped to help themselves and help others.
A lot of good can come from these little boxes of period products – we just need to keep up the commotion.
Disclaimer: The editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane is on the executive board of Girl Up UMiami. Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.