Putting period products in schools is the right thing to do
New law shows why representation in government matters
A new law will require public schools to stock girls’ bathrooms with period products starting in September 2024. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)
In 1999, I landed a dream job — web producer for a show called Oxygen Sports on a then-new women’s television network called Oxygen.
Emphasis on women in our shows’ content meant emphasis on women’s needs in the predominantly female workplace. Imagine the feeling of walking into a restroom every day of your working life and finding baskets of tampons and sanitary pads on the counters. Free for the taking!
And I thought it was nirvana when I saw the Keurig coffee machines in the breakroom.
That is the joyful feeling that bubbled up in my memory when I saw that New Jersey has a new law joining other states in requiring free menstrual products in public school bathrooms starting in 2024.
While the law is laudably focused on addressing economic need and the imbalance that can be found in many student populations, it is about so much more than that.
Let’s look at why the law was introduced, or more to the point, who introduced the idea. In 2022, N.J. Assemblywomen Sadaf Jaffer, Shanique Speight, Shama Haider, Kim Eulner, and Marilyn Piperno —Democrats and Republicans, it’s worth noting — combined to propose a bunch of laws focused on menstruation.
Let’s pause here. Can men introduce these laws? Yes, they can. Are they less likely to because this isn’t part of their daily experience? Also yes.
Representation matters. I am so sick of hearing that smart, vibrant, passionate women in politics are some kind of token, still such a frequent cry in 2023, only in different language than it used to be. Look no further than the recent death of respected Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and the discussion around the search for her replacement.
NorthJersey.com columnist Mike Kelly criticized any effort to replace Oliver with another Black woman as “identity politics” and said her eventual replacement, Secretary of State Tahesha Way, “will be tainted as someone who rose to the top of Murphy’s list only because of her gender and skin color.”
Are we really to believe that intelligent humans still don’t get how many white men are in positions of power largely due to their gender and skin color? Perhaps they can take it for granted that their life experiences are represented in government, but some of us are just learning how wonderful that can be.
In the meantime, here we have a gesture in our schools (solidified in law) that, whether it is intended to or not, will remove a layer of “otherness” when it comes to women’s experiences. We’re more than half of the population, and we’re still expressing our unfettered gratitude for a law that sees us as humans with basic needs.
We bleed monthly. We need products for that. Yes, they’re costly, but even the wealthiest among us knows what it’s like to be caught by surprise. Darn, it’s early. Oh no, I thought three tampons would get me through the day, but I need another one. Whew, I’ll grab one out of the basket in the restroom. I appreciated that as an adult and would feel immense satisfaction in knowing young girls would get this message earlier than I did.
I still think about an interview I saw with a woman who described the ordeal of having her period and being without menstrual products while sheltered in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina. It drove home for me the urgency and the indignity of the experience.
My mother’s generation might read this as TMI. When I was watching television with her recently and we saw a commercial for Lume – a full-body deodorant for “pits, privates and beyond” — she railed about why we can’t keep these bodily functions private, like we did in her day. What’s next? We go back to telling young women to call their periods their “friends” in mixed company? (And you thought Mark Zuckerberg bastardized the term).
We’re done with that. Let’s normalize periods vs. “othering” them. Tampons are as basic as toilet paper.
Even Margot Robbie’s Barbie gave us that message. Her first action as a citizen of the real world instead of Barbie Land? A trip to the gynecologist.
Lawmakers, keep writing our experiences into the laws of the land. It’s the right thing to do, not just economically but societally, too.
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