Michelle Bronsard ’18
(The following situation is based on a true event that occurred at George School in 2015. However, similar events still occur daily in other schools around the world).
It was 7:57 a.m. and students were rushing out of the dining hall to their classes, each with a bagel in one hand and an apple in the other. One student left her dorm room in a hurry and headed out to McFeely for her morning history class. She plopped in her usual chair right as the 8:00 a.m. Bancroft bells echoed across campus. As she unzipped her bag and reached for her history textbook, an unused tampon wrapped in a flowery pink-and-green package, rolled out of her bag.
In a split second, she grabbed it and stuffed it in her pocket, but not before one of her female classmates muttered in disgust. Surprised by the reaction, she felt her face growing red: first in embarrassment, then in anger. Why should she be ashamed of dropping a female hygiene product in public? And more importantly, why are female hygiene products, necessary for about half of the world’s population, still considered disgusting and inappropriate?
Some of you might recall the bowls of pads and tampons placed around campus in public areas last school year, which provided all students with free female hygiene products. The project was led by the students of Rebecca Missonis’ 2015-16 International Women’s History class. The students scattered tampon bowls in places such as Main lobby, the FAC, and the Bancroft and McFeely common areas.
According to Rebecca, the purpose of this two-fold project “was to help people by making menstrual products as normal and accessible as toilet paper or paper towels, and [to take] away the stigma.”
Rebecca’s students were motivated to make pads and tampons free for the community, having recently learned about the tampon tax, an unfair tax on female hygiene products, which are considered “non-essential”- in most states, excluding Pennsylvania.
Months after the installment of the tampon bowls, they were taken away, in part because of worries expressed by some members of the community and in part because of their supposed replacement with 3D-printed tampon distributors in most bathrooms.
“Even though they are described as such, tampons and pads are not a luxury”
-Will Bein ‘17
Because of the initial success of the tampon bowls, their removal was surprising and slightly mysterious. Although no individual had publicly denounced the tampon bowls, there seemed to be some objection from certain members of the community.
After asking around, Alessandra Angelini ’16, one of the students from the Women’s History class, concluded that most of the faculty on campus who disapproved of the tampon bowls were women. To explain this odd trend, Alessandra suggested that it may be due to past social taboos.
“Women who were brought up their whole lives to think of their bodies as symbols of evil and dirtiness aren’t going to like the idea of everyone suddenly recognizing that ‘filth’,” she explained. “If I had been brought up to think of myself as some bleeding, ugly thing I wouldn’t want that to be publicized. And that’s exactly what we were doing!”
Alessandra points out that the public tampon bowls were not only created for their practical purpose, but also to make an important statement regarding women’s bodies and the indispensability of hygiene products.
“It was an effort to embrace the gross and re-define it as beautiful. Or rather, natural”
-Alessandra Angelini ‘16
When the bowls were taken away, Alessandra and Kelt Tobunluepop ’16 took matters in their own hands. They devised a plan to 3D print tampon distributors, fill them with donated tampons from the community, and place the distributors in female, male, and gender-neutral bathrooms.
They took advantage of their positions on Student Council (SC) and created a Menstruation Equality Taskforce (MPE). The taskforce oversaw the creation and the placement of the tampon distributors. The distributors have all been made and are in the hands of SC. In fact, they were supposed to be installed at the end of the 2015-16 school year but due to concerns surrounding the size and stability of the initial distributors, SC has had to make new ones. The distributors will be installed during this upcoming Spring Break.
The idea of tampon distributors in bathrooms around campus has pleased many female students on campus. Brooke Angle ’18 is not only enthusiastic at the prospect of free hygiene products, she is also thrilled at the message it sends to the community. “I think it is very important to teach everyone that periods are normal and [no one] should be ashamed of needing to use tampons. As a society, we have negative views of how women’s bodies work and there is shame associated with that.”
Brooke adds that the conversation around female hygiene products, whether positive or negative, is already “a huge step in accepting girls for who they are and letting other people know that we aren’t succumbing to that shame.”
Maddie Tong ’18 (Tong Ha Anh) agrees with Brooke and points out that, coming from a Vietnamese household, she finds it is even more important to discuss these topics at school as they are rarely spoken about in her native culture.
The open discussion surrounding menstruation and hygiene products here at George is significant for individuals as well as for the whole community. Many institutions in the United States, such as Brown University, have also begun offering free hygiene products in bathrooms and in public spaces.
A day will come when tampons and pads will be just as normal and accessible as soap and water in a bathroom. Hopefully, this day will be soon.