Equal Education, Period

I have a mother, two grandmothers, many aunts, friends who are girls, female teachers, and chances are, so do you. Most of the females I know use tampons and pads, because they all have menstrual cycles. However, in conversations about tampons and pads, or when talking about women’s bodily functions, men often shy away in discomfort. Not knowing how to feel or what to think we often feel uncomfortable. This is not something that is foreign to me. In my house there’s only one woman, my mom, so there were no conversations about periods in my family, or with my friends, for the first 15 years of my life. The closest we ever got to discussing it was dinner one time with my mom and a friend of hers. But the men at the table immediately shut the conversation down, saying it was not dinner conversation. I wonder if the situation were reversed what women would say about men discussing such topics.

Since September, my classmate and friend, Sophie Harrington and I have been advocating for school officials to provide free menstrual products in the bathrooms at our high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. In conversations with female friends, I learned that if their periods arrived unexpectedly and they happened not to have menstrual supplies on them, the process of visiting their learning community office to get a tampon or pad — a basic necessity for women — involved about 15 minutes out of class. Not to mention the publicity they do not necessarily want to receive from having to speak with an adult to request something as basic as toilet paper, say. (As we saw in the 2016 Summer Olympics, when Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui spoke about swimming on her period, taboos were smashed.) In a school whose motto is “Opportunity, Diversity, Respect,” where is the respect for the basic biological needs of half our student body? Where is the acknowledgment that not all female students feel comfortable asking a dean for menstrual supplies? We wanted to make it clear that female education should be valued as much as male education. We found that wasting 15 minutes trying to get a tampon or pad at the learning community or nurse was a clear indication that this was not the case. We wanted to change that.

For a few weeks we asked our fellow classmates to sign a petition to show their support for this initiative. While doing so, both of us encountered moments where male students would not want to engage in a conversation about this. Some seemed to want to get this conversation over with, their discomfort showing. One student even said, “the word [tampons] makes me cringe.” In the end, though, we collected over 500 student signatures in support, showing a resounding commitment among both genders for equal rights.

People come from all different backgrounds, some from cultures where discussing these subjects in mixed company simply does not happen. However, as members of an educational community, it is important for us to educate ourselves about why menstruation should not be off-limits to talk about, while respecting that not all of our peers come from cultures where talking about it is the norm. Regardless of cultural preferences, or perhaps because of cultural preferences that would make asking for menstrual supplies a hardship for some, we should advocate for our peers.

This project has been extremely important to me because although it may not affect me personally, it certainly affects the people around me. To me it seems incredibly unjust that such a basic necessity has been denied students. Menstrual products should be treated like toilet paper: all girls use them. This comparison never fails to shock me. How can we call ourselves a civil society when we provide toilet paper for everyone but not menstrual products for half the student body? Instituting such a policy is incredibly important for me and for all the people around me. It’s important so that women will have the same access to everything they need as men do. It is simply a question of equality.

During this project I have realized how men need to treat women’s rights: treat them like your own rights, because they are your rights. These rights are the rights of the people you love and who love you. Don’t sit idly by but support women and join them. The fight for rights is a fight for equality and nothing more. There is no alternate motive. There is no hidden agenda. It is not a fight for supremacy as some people misconceive. It is simply an attempt at trying to be equal, and nobody should be denied that right. Our initiative to get bring tampons and pads to school bathrooms was just one small way to promote equality.