Donald Trump’s selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence for VP has observers puzzling through the similarities and differences between the candidates. There’s one unexpected and oddly ironic commonality that the two men share: menstruation. Both stirred controversy over women and their periods during the past year. The Trump-Pence team might as well call itself “The Tampon Ticket.”
Periods for Pence has been a social media sensation since it launched last spring in response to Indiana’s passage of a new swath of abortion restrictions. One of the most intrusive and burdensome laws in the nation, the legislation signed by Pence not only forces women to disclose their reasons for terminating a pregnancy, but requires that miscarried fetal tissue be interred or cremated, regardless of the duration of the pregnancy. In other words, mistaking an early miscarriage for a heavy period could subject women to criminal penalties.
Now nearly 65,000 followers strong on Facebook, Periods for Pence urges constituents to inundate the governor’s office with calls to talk about their flow. “You should really let him know, since he’s so concerned,” posted the page’s anonymous creator. “I would certainly hate for any of my fellow Hoosier women to be at risk of penalty if they do not ‘properly dispose’ of this or report it.” The initiative has spurred an avalanche of media coverage, from The New York Times to the National Review.
And, of course, Trump catapulted periods into the campaign after the first Republican debate last summer when he crudely charged FOX News moderator Megyn Kelly of menstruating while moderating. His ever eloquent, and now infamous, accusation made headlines: “Blood coming out of her wherever.” Backlash was swift. The hashtag #PeriodAreNotAnInsult went viral as women took to Twitter to flood Trump with real-time reports of their menstrual cycles.
It took two serial misogynists to help shatter a lifetime of radio silence. After generations of being relegated to the margins—shrouded in stigma, a source of shame and embarrassment—periods have gone proudly public and political. Menstrual matters have become public as of late for the first time since, perhaps, the Garden of Eden. NPR and Cosmopolitan declared that we are in “The Year of the Period.” Newsweek boldly featured a tampon on its April cover with the headline “There Will Be Blood.”
Now, the topic could offer an interesting point in the fight for women’s votes in 2016. Yet even our voting rights are inextricably tied to our periods.
At the turn of the 20th century, when the fight for women’s right to vote was still being fiercely waged—in politics, in protests on the streets, and in the media and public discourse across the country—menstruation was among the reasons touted to send suffragists back to the kitchen. In 1912, a New York Times editorial opined:
No doctor can ever lose sight of the fact that the mind of a woman is always threatened with danger from the reverberations of her physiological emergencies (i.e. menstruation). It is with such thoughts that the doctor lets his eyes rest upon the militant suffragist. He cannot shut them to the fact that there is mixed up in the woman’s movement such mental disorder, and he cannot conceal from himself the physiological emergencies which lie behind.
This point of view was nothing new.
By 1920, profound change was achieved on both fronts. Women claimed a hard won victory with the ratification of the 19th Amendment—and Kotex made its debut in the commercial market. Not only did the formerly disenfranchised now have an equal voice in each and every election, they had access to the supplies that would enable them to more effectively engage and participate in civic life. Pads, and then tampons too, provided a new form of freedom to the formerly housebound.
Nearly a full century later, the campaign for the presidency is rife with misogyny—a wide open field for public mockery, degradation and control of women’s bodies, realities and lives. Surely we can, and should, demand and do better.