Periods Went Public—Now What?

 Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day! We’re renaming it Menstrual Equity Day—and to celebrate, Ms. contributor and author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, is treating readers to the following sneak-peek at her brand new preface to the book, out soon in paperback!


Since Periods Gone Public was published back in 2017, American women have made some historic political gains. Running for office in 2018—and winning!—in record numbers. Declaring that #TIMESUP on sexual harassment. Taking to the streets from coast to coast to march for our rights and make our voices heard.

In all this, fervor for menstrual equity has remained sky high and gone totally mainstream. The “red carpet” took on a whole new meaning when Period. End of Sentence. won big at the Academy Awards. And just this week, CBS News aired a feature-length documentary on menstrual equity activism in the U.S.  

The fight to take down the “tampon tax” continues to capture headlines and captivate lawmakers and the public alike. On Election Day in 2018, citizens in Nevada voted resoundingly in favor of a ballot measure to scrap the tax. There’s been a winning streak worldwide, too, with successful campaigns to make menstrual products tax-free in Australia, India, Malaysia and South Africa.

California, Illinois and New York all have passed new laws to provide free menstrual products in schools. And many more states—Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New York and Virginia among them—now require the same in prisons and jails.

Even Congress and President Trump—yes, the very same “blood coming out of her wherever” POTUS—took a stand for menstrual equity by signing into law the FIRST STEP Act, a broad criminal justice reform bill that requires menstrual access for incarcerated women in federal prisons. This marks a first for Capitol Hill, sending a major signal to states, national leaders and the entire world.

This is cause for real hope in what otherwise can feel like a never-ending parade of democratic crises and full-frontal attacks on women and transgender people. What does it suggest for the future of menstrual equity?

(Intima / Creative Commons)

First, it proves that the argument we’re making—that the ability to manage menstruation is at the heart of what it means to participate fully and equitably in our society—really, truly resonates. If our polarized political leadership can grasp this, so can any other governing body on this planet.

It also means that now is the time to keep up the fight, to get more states in the game. Fifteen no longer tax our tampons—but another 35 still do. We’re not even halfway to the goal of being a fully tampon-tax-free nation. And to imagine bigger, broader change—creative ways to leverage existing laws to address menstrual affordability and access.

For example, the Menstrual Equity for All Act would allow people to set aside pre-tax dollars to buy menstrual products. As of right now, these accounts are off limits thanks to an antiquated IRS classification that designates watermelon lip balm as an allowable and medically necessary purchase, but not pads or tampons. For real.

Even the renewed fight for the Equal Rights Amendment—it is true, this country has still yet to ratify the ERA and enshrine gender equality in our constitution—should include menstruation. How can we imagine gender equality without menstrual equity? Linking the two would ensure that menstrual access falls under the full array of protections the Amendment would provide.

Lest we forget, we have a major national election coming up in 2020—and a more diverse array of presidential contenders than ever before. Menstrual equity must be on every candidate’s agenda and both political parties’ official platform.

These are among the many critical fights that lie ahead for equitable menstrual policy. We’ve come a long way in a short time—and have so much more to accomplish together.

About

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is a lawyer, fierce advocate for and frequent writer on issues of gender, feminism and politics in America. Dubbed the “architect of the U.S. campaign to squash the tampon tax” by Newsweek, she is the author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, which was lauded by Gloria Steinem as “the beginning of liberation for us all,” and is a contributor to Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. She is also the women and democracy fellow at the Brennan Center. Find her on Twitter: @jweisswolf.