When I was 11, I got my first period; I was in 6th grade and had no idea what to do. I remember sitting in a bathroom stall, frozen and embarrassed. After I mustered enough courage to leave the safety of the stall I had been sitting in for the better part of an hour, I went to the nurses’ office in search of someone, anyone who could offer a solution. When I got there, I was handed a tampon and again, had no idea what to do.
On average, most girls start menstruating at age 12 and enter menopause at age 51. The average period occurs every 28 days for 6 days at a time. If you do that math, those figures show that the average woman spends 72 days per year menstruating and a grand total of 2808 days (7.69 years!) on her period during her lifetime.
The United States, and far too many other countries across the globe do not consider feminine hygiene a health issue, which leads to stigmatization, prohibitive costs, and far too many girls and women feeling helpless during “that time of the month”.
In the United States, accessing feminine hygiene products is serious problem for many “low-income” women. A 36 count box of tampons will cost you anywhere from 7-12 dollars depending on where you live. For many, this expense is a burden every month. Food stamps do not cover feminine products, and many women resort to selling their food stamps to cover the cost of pads or tampons each month.
Here’s a fun game: what do dancing lessons, marijuana, a boob job, and feminine products have in common?
If you guessed that all of the above are categorized by the IRS as non-tax-exempt, non-tax-deductible medical expenses, then you are correct!
Purchasing feminine products each month can certainly be a struggle for low income women, but the women in our prison systems have it even worse. Often feminine supplies are not supplied to inmates, and they are only available in the prison commissary. This system poses several problems:
1. The commissary charges ridiculous mark-ups on already expensive feminine products.
2. Only prisoners with outside contacts can get funds added to their commissary accounts.
3. Often the commissary is out of feminine supplies and it can sometimes be MONTHS before they receive a new shipment.
Profiting off of detained women’s need to menstruate is disgusting and a complete violation of human rights. Detained women sometimes fashion their own supplies out of their rationed toilet paper, but even homemade supplies can be confiscated. Menstruating is not a choice, and feminine hygiene products should not be viewed as “fringe benefits” or “luxuries” by our government!
In 1978, Gloria Steinem wrote,
“So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?
Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event:
Men would brag about how long and how much.
Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.
To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.
Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- “For Those Light Bachelor Days…”
For too long girls and women have had to accept that their natural menstruation is not a “legitimate health issue”. I consider myself lucky to be able to afford the “luxury” of feminine supplies each month, but many women are not so lucky. It is time for us to stand up and make our government realize that pads, tampons, diva cups, or any other form of feminine supply is not something to be feared and stigmatized, but instead a monthly necessity for many of its citizens.