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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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Health

What I realized about feminism after my male friend was disgusted by tampons at a party.

"After all these years, my friend has probably forgotten, but I never have."

Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

It’s okay men. You don’t have to be afraid.



Years ago, a friend went to a party, and something bothered him enough to rant to me about it later.

And it bothered me that he was so incensed about it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. It seemed so petty for him to be upset, and even more so for me to be annoyed with him.

Recently, something reminded me of that scenario, and it made more sense. I'll explain.


The party was a house party.

One of those parties people throw if they're renting a good-sized house in college. You know the type — loud music, Solo cups of beer, and somebody doing something drunk and stupid before the end of the night.

At some point, my friend had occasion to use the bathroom. When he went into the bathroom, he was disgusted to see that the hostess had left a basket of menstrual hygiene products on the counter for guests to use if needed.

Later, when my friend told me about it, he wrinkled his nose and said, “Why would she do that? Guys don't want to see that!"

When I suggested that she was just making them available in case someone needed them, he insisted they could be left in the cabinet or under the counter. Out of sight, anyway.

I wish I'd had, at the time, the ability to articulate what I can now.

To me, this situation is, while relatively benign, a perfect example of male privilege.

A man walks into the bathroom and sees a reminder that people have periods. And he's disgusted. He wants that evidence hidden away because it offends his senses. How dare the hostess so blatantly present tampons and pads where a man might see them? There's no reason for that!

Someone who gets a period walks into the bathroom and sees that the hostess is being extra considerate. They get it. They know what it's like to have a period start unexpectedly. The feeling of horror because they're probably wearing something they don't want ruined — it is a party after all. The sick embarrassment because someone might notice, especially if they're wearing light-colored clothes, or worse, they sat on the hostess' white couch.

The self-conscious, semi-nauseated feeling of trying to get through a social event after you've exhausted every avenue to get your hands on an emergency pad or tampon, and you're just hoping to God that if you tie your jacket around your waist (you brought one, right?), keep your back to a wall, clench your butt cheeks, squeeze your thighs tightly together, and don't ... move ... at ... all — you might get through the evening, bow out gracefully, and find an all-night convenience store with a public restroom.

Or maybe they came to the party during their period, but didn't bargain for the flow to suddenly get that heavy. Or they desperately need a tampon, but their purse or bag is in a room where a couple is not to be disturbed. Maybe they don't know the hostess well enough to ask if they can use one. Or they don't know anyone at the party well enough to ask. Or they figure they can make do with some wadded up toilet paper or something.

Whatever the case, they walk into the bathroom and hear the hostess saying, “Hey, I know what it's like, and just in case, I've got your back." They see someone saving them from what could be a minor annoyance or a major embarrassment.

The hostess gets it.

The person who just walked into the bathroom? They're either going to see that the person throwing the party is super considerate or they're going to be whispering "thanks to Jesus, Krishna, and whoever else is listening" because that is a basket full of social saviors.

But to the guy who wrinkled his nose, it's still offensive that those terrible little things are on the counter, reminding his delicate sensibilities that the playground part of a person is occasionally unavailable due to a "gross" bodily function that he should never have to think about.

In the grand scheme of things, it's a tiny thing. It's a tiny annoyance for the man and a more significant, but relatively tiny, courtesy for the person with their period. After all these years, my friend has probably forgotten, but I never have. As a person whose life is partially governed by a fickle uterus that can ruin an evening faster than a submerged iPhone, his story has stuck with me.

How can you be so offended by a small gesture that has zero effect on you, but could make such an enormous difference to the person who needs it?

It occurs to me now that this is a small but effective illustration of how different people can see the world.

It's part of the same thought process that measures a woman's value through her bra size and her willingness to have sex with him — that everything about us is displayed or hidden based on how men perceive them or what he wants to get from us. Unattractive women should be as covered as possible, while attractive ones shouldn't be hiding their assets from male eyes (or hands, or anything else he wishes to use).

A woman who isn't smiling is an affront to him because it detracts from her prettiness, despite the fact that there might be a legitimate reason for her not to smile (or more to the point, there isn't a legitimate reason for her to smile). Her emotional state is irrelevant because she's not being pretty. It's the line of thinking where a man blames anything other than cheerful sexual consent on the woman being a bitch, being a lesbian, or — naturally — being on her period. Everything we do, from our facial expressions to our use of hygiene products, is filtered through the lens of “how it looks to a man.”

It's the line of thinking where a small gesture from one person to another, an assurance that someone else understands and will help without question or judgment, a gesture that could save a person's evening from being ruined is trumped by a man's desire to see an untainted landscape of pretty, smiling women with visible cleavage and bodies that never bleed.

And people wonder why we still need feminism.


This story was written by L.A. Witt and originally appeared on 8.12.16

True
Seventh Generation

Behold, the humble tampon! An innovation so essential and effective that Consumer Reports named it one of the "50 small wonders" to revolutionize lives of consumers.

If you're a woman of reproductive age, there's a good chance a tampon has come in handy for you at least once. Image by iStock.


Historians credit the invention of modern applicator tampons to Earl Cleveland Haas, who patented the Tampax tampon in 1931 and sold his ideas to a sales conglomerate in 1934. But Haas was hardly the first person to think of internal solutions to managing menstruation. Women have been making their own tampons for hundreds — if not thousands — of years. Ancient Egyptian women used soft pieces of papyrus; Roman women used wool; Equatorial African women used bundles of soft grass. It seems as soon as women reach reproductive age, they're looking for ways — other than pads — to hide menstruation from everyone else.

That's one of the things that makes tampons so unique. They are discreet, super portable, and undetectable under clothing. They have a small waste footprint and, once governments finish getting rid of ridiculous luxury taxes, will be available for the same cost as pads.

Pads from the 1950s could also double as floatation devices in the event of an aircraft water landing.*

*This is not true, it just feels like it could be.

But for as long as they’ve been available commercially, tampons have been the subject of concern and controversy.

It’s not surprising why. Using a tampon is deeply personal. It is closer to our body than anything else, and our use of it implies a massive amount of trust and good faith.

Which is why when stories come out about tampons being unsafe, they really resonate.

To understand some of the historical context around our relationship with tampons, we need to head back to the 1970s.

It was a magical era of liberation, disco, and using high-tech synthetic fabrics in absolutely everything — even tampons.

In 1975, Proctor and Gamble started test-marketing Rely, a tampon made, for the very first time, without cotton or rayon. Instead, Rely substituted a mix of synthetic fibers to create a super high-absorbency product promising women more freedom by allowing them to wear a single tampon for up to a day.

Rely made bold claims, and they should have been tested. But right at the same time, Congress reclassified tampons from "cosmetic products" to "medical devices" in order to impose stricter regulations. Somehow, Rely managed to slip through the cracks.

In 1978, the Berkeley Women's Health Collective raised concerns about Rely tampons, particularly over how their synthetic ingredients could damage vaginal walls and create a breeding ground for bacteria.

Sadly, their fears were warranted. By 1980, toxic shock syndrome caused by high-absorbency tampons, including Rely, had killed 38 women and sickened more than 800 others across the United States.

Since then, there’ve been big changes in how tampons are made and regulated.

Tampons sold in America aren't made with synthetic fabrics or additives anymore — only with cotton, rayon (absorbent cellulose fibers made from bleached wood pulp), or a blend of the two.

For some people, that's still cause for concern. The issue you've probably heard the most about is dioxin — a byproduct of chlorine bleaching that the EPA recognizes as highly toxic and cancer-causing — and which may be found in trace amounts in some tampons. However, the FDA assures consumers that on their own, these minuscule amounts of dioxin aren't a risk to human health.

Image by iStock.

Tampon manufacturers are required by the FDA to list a bunch of information on their packaging, including information about absorbency and the risk of toxic shock syndrome, but absolutely nothing about ingredients. Any tampon companies who list the ingredients in their products are doing so voluntarily. For that, we thank them, but many people also wish there were strong ingredient disclosure regulations for even more peace of mind.

In the last few decades, there's been a lot of progress on destigmatizing periods and making "that time of the month" more manageable for women.


Sorry, Brick. This is — thankfully — absolutely not true.

It's understandable and encouraging that women are paying so much attention to and asking questions about what they're putting in their bodies. Think of it this way: The average woman's reproductive life lasts for 40 years, or about 480 periods. If she exclusively uses tampons, that adds up to an estimated 9,600 to 11,000 tampons.

With an increase in conversations around periods, there's also been an increase in options. Women have dozens of choices for managing blood flow during their periods — everything from super-absorbent underwear to silicon cups to organic tampons and everything in between. It all comes down to your preference and comfort level.

In the meantime, let's keep talking about our periods! The more open we all are about menstruation, the better.

Periods happen. It's a fact of life. About every 28 days, people of childbearing age with uteruses get their periods.

It's a beautiful process of biological renewal: The uterus cleans itself in anticipation of a possible future baby, and women everywhere who get caught off guard by the arrival of their monthly visitor can experience the unique joy of asking strangers in public bathrooms if they have an extra tampon.

Very recently lawmakers have started to acknowledge that helping people manage this time with grace and ease is a wonderful — and long overdue — thing to do.


Last summer, the government of Canada agreed to stop taxing tampons, pads, and menstrual cups. In mid-March, the Chicago City Council voted unanimously to stop its tax on all feminine products and reclassify them as medical necessities. And in New York City, a brand-new bill will supply girls in 25 schools with free tampons and pads, plus give free menstrual products to female-bodied prisoners in homeless shelters and city jails.

The first lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, was very excited about that last bill. An accomplished poet, she channelled her enthusiasm about it into a delightful poem titled "Tampons for All," which she shared in a series of tweets.

McCray's ode to tampons — and its message — are so great, but Twitter moves on quickly and these tweets should not be forgotten.

So here it is, in all it's tampon-y glory:

If you're inspired by McCray's words, let her know on Twitter. And if you're a resident of one of the majority of U.S. states that still tax menstrual products, maybe it's worth sharing this with your lawmakers as well.

Heroes

This New York City official is changing tampon access in 3 bold ways.

Most states tax tampons as luxury items. But now, New York City Council members are fighting back.

Unless you're a character in a Judy Blume novel, getting your period is rarely an event met with elation.

Most people who menstruate take it in stride. It's a normal bodily function, and it's usually manageable, especially if you have access to the period products you need (tampons, pads, menstrual cups, ibuprofen ... the occasional heating pad and chocolate bar).


Right there with ya, Tina. GIF from "30 Rock."

But for many women, that access isn't a given.

Women who get their periods while homeless, in jail or prison, or at school often don't have access to tampons or pads when they need them.

And even folks who can stop by the store and pick up a box of tampons on the regular pay a "luxury tax" tacked onto their purchase in most states. That can really add up — especially if you're living paycheck to paycheck.

Here's the good news: New York City Council members are teaming up to fight back against this tax and lack of access in some awesome ways.

Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is leading the charge.

Ferreras-Copeland in action, via her Facebook page, used with permission.

According to The Atlantic, Ferreras-Copeland got involved after she read an op-ed about the tampon tax in The New York Times and decided to talk to the author, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf from the Brennan Center for Justice.

"After meeting with Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who shared with me what she had written about the tax, I thought, 'OK, what can I do from a municipal level?'" Ferreras-Copeland told Upworthy.

Their conversation prompted Ferreras-Copeland to hold a roundtable in June, where she heard from advocates for homeless, incarcerated, and low-income women and girls.

“I couldn’t believe I could just go to a lawmaker with an idea and have her listen and do something about it,” Weiss-Wolf told The Atlantic. “That should be how government works.

Based on this, Ferreras-Copeland has a few big plans for the women of New York.

1. She launched a hugely successful initiative that put free tampons and pads in every girls bathroom in a Queens high school, and she wants to take it citywide.


We put toilet paper in bathrooms for free. Why not tampons? Image from Wikimedia Commons.

"Many [female students] found themselves cutting class or leaving school [after getting their period], where young men don't even have to think about this as a challenge in their school day," Ferreras-Copeland said.

Her pilot program provided pads and tampons to the school, keeping the school's bathrooms well stocked, for free. "[The pilot program] was so well received. The parents also very much supported it. The young girls thought, 'Wow, this is such a simple solution.' They could just be normal students— focused on their midterms, focused on their finals," she said.

2. She's drafting a package of legislation about period product access.

"There are many women out there that are struggling," Ferreras-Copeland said. "They have to decide between putting food on the table and being healthy and keeping their bodies healthy."

Her three proposed bills would make tampons and pads available for free in New York City's shelters, correctional facilities, and public schools.

3. She's also planning to introduce a resolution that calls on the New York state assembly to get rid of the luxury tax on pads and tampons altogether.

Thankfully, New York City isn't the only place where tampons and pads may soon become more accessible. Several other states, including California and Ohio, are considering eliminating taxes on feminine hygiene products, too. The New York Times is even calling for an end to the tampon tax altogether.

What can we all do personally? Keep talking about periods and why everyone deserves to experience them with dignity. Change happens when people choose to ignore stigma and speak out.