Why is Women’s Health Taboo?

Written and Photos by: Julia Clements

arly in November, the campus was wet with rain. Temple students walked against the wind with their hoods up and heads bent down towards the puddles on the sidewalks. At the bell tower, in the midst of the bustling umbrellas hurrying to class, a group of students brandished banners and raised their voices:

“Donate tampons and pads!”

That’s right. These students called upon the people of Temple’s campus for donations of feminine hygiene products. Direct and determined they shouted:

“If you have a uterus, you probably have a tampon or pad with you. Give us one!”

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These proactive students are members of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a club that seeks to raise awareness of and further the Feminist Movement among students on Temple’s campus. And their drive for tampons is not only an act of charity, but also an opportunity to start a conversation about the stigma that surrounds periods.

It is an expectation that a group of feminists proudly shouting about periods will make some people uncomfortable. But why is that? Martha Sherman, an FMLA e-board member, believes that this uneasiness surrounding the topic of periods stems from period stigma.

“Period stigma is the concept that people do not want to talk about periods because it is seen as shameful and gross. This comes from a place of sexism, where women’s bodies are policed.” Sherman said. “People who hand out condoms are often seen as cool and fun loving, because sex is an activity that everyone can do.  When it comes to activities that women’s bodies do, though, people are told not to talk about them and to hide them.”

This perception of periods was much less present on Temple’s campus November 10-12th when much of the Temple community halted their day to donate tampons and pads. This year, the fifth annual tampon drive, 2,690 tampons, 1,471 pads and $257 were collected according to Sherman. The FMLA is very pleased at the reaction of the community.

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“Far and away, the reactions were positive.  We had people ask us why we were collecting tampons, tell us that our work is important, and people wanting to learn more.” Sherman said. “Of course, there are still some people who are uncomfortable with the idea of periods and particularly a group of feminists yelling about periods, so we got some odd faces.  Mostly, though, people are really enthusiastic about the idea.”

The donations from the Tampon Drive will all go to Project SAFE in Kensington. Project SAFE is a harm reduction organization that aims to provide advocacy and support for women working in street economies in Philadelphia. The collection and donation of tampons ensures that women who can’t afford this essential product will not have to make the choice between buying tampons and buying food.

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This is crucial because tampons are expensive. People in poverty don’t choose to get their period, so they’re basically forced to pay ridiculous prices for something essential to their health and well-being. In many places, tampons are taxed due to their “inessential” status. Meanwhile there are products like groceries, food stamps and certain medical purchases are exempt from taxes.  Only five states in the U.S. explicitly choose not to tax tampons.

This is a clear unjust disparity that has just started to get some recognition. In fact, the same week that Temple students were collecting tampons, women in the UK protested the tampon tax by “free bleeding” in front of Parliament. This coincidence is definitely indicative of the severity of the societal neglect of women’s needs. However, the more visible these movements and drives are, the more likely that they will evoke change.

“We would like to think that we got people talking about periods and helped them understand the intersection between sexism and classism.” Sherman said. “Our goal is to help these people who need tampons and pads, but also to make college students more willing to talk about periods and the problems that affect women of a low socioeconomic status.”

In accordance with the movement to end period stigma, it’s about time to start asking why women’s health is taboo.

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