by Amy Baez, Staff Writer, October 2021

Whose susceptibility are we satisfying by hiding tampons up our sleeves and using euphemisms like “Aunt Flo” to talk about our periods indirectly?

The shame surrounding menstruation detrimentally affects period poverty, and negatively impacts the mental health of menstruating people. Period poverty is the limited access of period products due to financial circumstances and is a global challenge rooted in systemic inequality. Certain marginalized communities are especially vulnerable to period poverty. According to State of the Period, a public study tracking the impact of period poverty among American teenagers, teens continue to face stigma relating to menstruation and the acquisition of hygiene products. 

Fortunately, the school provides free menstrual products, but are these essentials accessible to everyone on campus? 

Currently, menstrual supplies are at the Health Office. Although having menstrual supplies on-campus is a step in the right direction, including them in each bathroom would be even more beneficial. “Having a lovely campus with multiple buildings is wonderful, but it is difficult to get to the Health Office in the middle school when we are often talking about the five minutes between classes,” Nobles Feminist Coalition (FemCo) Faculty Advisor Sara Masucci said. About seven years ago, the Nobles Health Department installed free menstrual products in each women’s bathroom. At the time, the available pads and tampons were used up too soon. As a result, period products were removed from female bathrooms. 

School Nurse Lisa O’Connor, has proposed providing free menstrual products in the bathrooms again, but with a few adjustments. In 2017, the Student Body President of Brown University, Viet Nguyen, took the initiative to include free pads and tampons in nonresidential bathrooms, including men’s restrooms, to be trans-inclusive. “We could put the supplies in the gender-neutral bathrooms because they are a safe space for anybody. That will probably be a good way to start,” O’Connor said. Ideally, the free period supplies would be in every restroom, regardless of sex, but is the school permisive enough to provide hygienic products in a men’s restroom? 

Giving free menstrual supplies would be a way of modernizing our community’s view of periods. Masucci said, “Normalization is very slow, but having supplies in bathrooms and possibly the nurses going on stage and saying the words menstrual products is a great thing that should happen. It’s hard to do that.” While the normalization of a highly stigmatized bodily function will be a tedious task, by having edifying conversations about menstruating bodies, we will change the shame that follows having a period. 

Providing menstrual education in a coed classroom is vital for diminishing ignominy. “The more information that we can share with people who may not know as much about it, whether it be people of different genders or even girls who come to this place and haven’t learned at school or home, providing them with factual information normalizes it. It’s a bodily function,” O’Connor said. The coed Personal Development (PD) courses are an insightful way to develop a more open mindset about the human body from a young age. Through these courses, periods, and other denounced bodily functions will no longer be seen as inconveniences, but rather acknowledged and understood. 

Students are more than privileged when it comes to having free menstrual products; School Nurse Erin Hartford said a sufficient order of 200 tampons came in mid-September. With this supply, we can aid menstruating individuals outside of our community as well. “Two years ago, FemCo’s fundraiser raised money to provide menstrual products to women and girls in shelters and transitional housing. One of the things that came out of those conversations was how hard it is to talk about. It is something that is a fact,” Masucci said. Assisting other communities brings up meaningful discussions we must touch upon to change how the menstrual cycle is perceived. 

Period poverty is not only an economic struggle but a human rights issue as well. Solving this issue depends on an all-inclusive health education and regular access to period products. The simple change of appending menstrual supplies in various bathrooms on campus is a small, but effective step forward. In desperate times anything can help, and having a free pad or tampon nearby before class starts in a few minutes can make all the difference. As Masucci said, “Everyone wants change to go really fast, but it’s the incremental things that often help that happen.”