Aunt Flo. Carrie at the prom. That time of the month. Whatever coy name we attach to it, there’s no denying that periods are a pain in the, well, everywhere. The physical and emotional stresses of periods are bemoaned every month, and to a lesser degree, the financial stresses are as well. As the tampon tax is battled within state legislatures, Brown University’s decision to provide free pads and tampons in both male and female bathrooms signals the turning of the red tide towards a more female and transgender-inclusive society and should inspire other schools like Wellesley to follow suit.
The social implications of Brown University’s decision is monumental. Even in 2016, periods are a taboo that many refuse to acknowledge, but that has been changing since Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui earned praise for speaking candidly about her period.
Brown takes it one step further, however, by recognizing that it’s not just women who menstruate. The school’s actions are not at all a political statement, as some may believe, but rather an attempt at inclusivity in a time defined by things like North Carolina’s controversial Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, more commonly referred to as the Bathroom Bill, which bars transgender people from using the restroom facilities for the genders they identify with.
Historically speaking, talk of periods and women’s general reproductive health has unquestionably been suppressed. Ancient Jewish communities had special huts lacking in basic amenities built to sequester menstruating women, who were regarded as dirty and impure.
Thankfully, we’ve gotten past the point of literal ostracization, but there’s no question that discussions about periods are marked by continual nervousness. Eventually, periods will be talked about openly and honestly. While total transparency may not be achieved in 2016, the year has seen an exponential explosion of period talk, a good sign for those optimistic enough to hope for veritable equality.
Despite efforts made in various states to eliminate the ‘tampon tax’, there is still strong opposition to removing the tax and providing free products in public restrooms rooted in ages-old misogyny. Even so, more and more people are beginning to realize that it’s not feasible to ask so much for a product that fulfills a basic biological imperative.
In an interview with President Obama, YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen stumped the President by questioning the reason why a luxury tax would be placed on tampons since she “didn’t think there was anyone who has a period that thinks it’s a luxury.”
Socially, the move to provide free feminine hygiene products is monumental, but let’s take a step back and actually calculate an approximation of what it will cost a menstruating individual to cover the cost of feminine hygiene products in the four years they are at Wellesley. Periods occur for an average of three to seven days.
Let’s just say that four tampons or two pads are used per day for five days. At 20 tampons or ten pads per cycle, with 48 cycles in four years, and $7 for 36-count packages of each product at Walgreens, the total comes out to approximately $190 and $95 for tampons and pads, respectively. We might not be trading a kidney for these products, but there’s no denying that paying for pads and tampons is a costly nuisance that can be circumvented.
With an endowment of $1.854 billion, according to 2015 numbers, Wellesley is the highest endowed women’s college in the world. To supply pads and tampons for the approximately 2,400 students enrolled, it would cost about $171,000 per year if both tampons and pads were provided. If Wellesley and other women’s colleges were to join Brown in providing free feminine hygiene products, the dominos that are coeducational universities and schools could easily begin to topple until the obstacle of the federal government is knocked over and laws designed to finally help women are enacted.
Change of any kind is incremental, but in this case, the change must overcome ingrained personal and public censorship and social stigma. Brown University’s announcement has reinvigorated a conversation that has been going on for centuries, only now it’s being heard by all.
Photo courtesy of Max Fleishman