by Eudora Olsen
Last month, the Undergraduate Council at Harvard College allocated $1,000 to provide menstrual hygiene products in freshman dorms. This is approximately 2 tampons per menstruating freshman. The overall sentiment was a shrug. “It’s a gesture,” many students said.
Early yesterday morning, I stood outside the Women’s Restroom in Cabot Library, beaming at my phone as I
instagrammed, snapchatted, tweeted, and facebooked a picture of another “gesture”: a brand new dispenser of free tampons and pads in the Science Center.
Like the menstrual hygiene pilot program in the freshmen dorms, this dispenser is a gesture--a small token of our undying efforts with the menstrual movement. Nevertheless, this single dispenser is an important step toward campus-wide cultural change at Harvard. Here at Period, we are trying to change the conversation about menstruation. But more than this, we strive to celebrate menstruation. So today, when I walked into the Women’s Restroom at 9am and saw a small token gesture of our hard work, I threw a party—with all of my 200 Twitter followers and thousands of (Facebook) friends, duh.
When talking about menstrual hygiene to mixed crowds of menstruators and non-menstruators, like say, the hoards of students passing through the Science Center Plaza, I find simple generalizations most effective. Statements like, “All college students deserve to be clean and on time to class,” or “All college students deserve the right to sit in lecture without blood seeping through their pants,” tend to get a head turn.
When I first started talking to people about periods, I would jump in front of the first passer-byer without headphones in their ears and start talking at them with lightning speed about everything from the luxury tax on tampons to the donation drive we are running in two months.
The same thing would happen every time. Their eyes would glaze over and they would slowly back away, sneaking one earbud in at a time to drown out my overwrought spiel.
I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong—had they already heard about the luxury tax? Should I have mentioned the exact time of the event? Did they want to hear more about the shelters we donate to or the ways they could get involved?
I realized that they didn’t want to hear more, and definitely not more about the event in two months or the (luxe? lecture? whatever) tax that they could care less about on their way to class.
Ironically, I realized, it’s the simple, most obvious, even mundane things that get people’s attention and allow them to conceptualize menstrual hygiene as a human right.
“All college students deserve to be clean and on time to class.”
AND that is why we need to push our administration and fellow students to join the menstrual movement. Because menstrual hygiene is a matter of equal access to education. It is a basic human right to be clean and cared for and on time to class. At the state and federal level, this inequity manifests in a luxury tax that leaves women at the outskirts of society unable to purchase the products they deserve. At the societal level, this inequity manifests in a vicious stigmatization that leaves women silenced and shamed for a natural bodily function.
Small and simple statements that relate menstrual hygiene to basic human rights open up conversation for big change. And small and simple gestures, like free tampon and pad dispensers in the Science Center bathrooms, show that this university cares for the wellbeing, health, education, and dignity of its students.
This is only the beginning, but that’s no reason not to celebrate. At PERIOD, we are pioneering conversations, service, and legislation for menstrual equity. Join the menstrual movement to celebrate the “firsts” that give way to sustainable, affordable, and empowering societal change.