I turn the crank of the tampon machine until its empty sign appears. My brown leather bag is now plump with free tampons. It’s a pretty Fossil bag and you would never guess that it belongs to a compulsive tampon-taker.
I look over my shoulder at a stunned undergraduate onlooker and give her a “don’t mess with me, I’m an instructor” look. She might not know I’m a teacher. She might think I’m an entitled college student.
I don’t think I’m entitled, though. I just don’t understand why free tampons are not available to women in unlimited supply.
As a modern-dancer-turned-poet, it makes financial sense that I would take advantage of free tampons—but even my friends who have higher salaries are doing it. “Oh, yeah. I always take the tampons if they are free in a restaurant bathroom,” says my friend, Mary.* It turns out many of the tampons my friends and I have given each other over the years have been taken from public restrooms. We might sound like bratty millennials, but when you consider the gender wage gap, it’s something that needs to be talked about.
Think about how often condoms are available for free. You can’t even go out for a night of bar hopping without coming across a club with an oversized condom bowl. But most public restrooms, unfortunately, don’t offer free tampons.
Looking back, I can think of examples throughout my life when free tampons would have helped me immensely. In late elementary school, when I first began to menstruate, I would keep my feminine supplies in my lunch box so I could take care of things during the lunch hour. Since we were not allowed to carry our bags outside of our classroom during the school day, I came up with the lunch box solution. I’m sure young girls still do things like this—but why? If menstrual products were publicly and freely available, they wouldn’t have to.
Wisconsin lawmaker Melissa Sargent (D) believes feminine-hygiene products should be free in public buildings, including schools and correctional facilities. According to Sargent, women spend around $70 a year on feminine products. When discussing this amount with some friends, we agreed that $70 a year is a low estimate, but we’re on board with Sargent’s quest for free tampons.
I greatly admire the volunteers who donate feminine products to food banks in the U.S. and internationally. Not only are they helping women and girls, they are raising awareness about this problem. I hope someday government will get rid of the tampon tax, allow pads, tampons and menstrual cups to be purchased with food stamps and eventually find a way to make feminine-hygiene products free for all girls and women.
Until then, I’ll be stocking up from the restrooms that have free tampons. If you need some, let me know.
*Name has been changed
Learn more about how lawmakers are taking on the tampon tax in the next issue of Ms. Click here to subscribe!
Photo via Shutterstock