Period. Females have had one since the dawn of time, yet this word wasn’t said publicly — in the context of a uterus — until a 1985 Tampax ad. The advertisers who encouraged Courtney Cox to say “period” were congratulated for their then-progressive diction and straightforward approach.
But after television audiences cheered and Tampax execs finished patting each other on the back, the conversation seemingly ended along with any advancement toward relieving stigma surrounding menstruation.
NPR recently claimed 2015 was “The Year of the Period.” Cosmopolitan called 2015 “the year the period went public.”
When Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon without a tampon last April, she brought attention to the lack of access to feminine products worldwide, but not without being criticized that her “free bleed” was vulgar. When Instagram took down a photo of a woman with a period stain on her sweatpants, it told women they ought to be ashamed of normal repercussions that come with menstruation. When Donald Trump said Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her whatever,” #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult began trending because he wasn’t the only one making misogynistic comments.
The attention periods have received from mainstream media indicates progress to subdue the negative stigma. But it also pinpoints how much work we have left.
To add insult to injury, 40 states have a “luxury tax” on tampons and other sanitary products. In California, people who menstruate pay more than $20 million combined every year in taxes just to have the “luxury” of taking care of their bodies. Other intimate “necessities,” like Viagra, are left untaxed.
A quick Google search about menstruation leads to a plethora of useful information about this normal bodily function — information that 30 years ago, when the Tampax ad aired, was much harder to find. However, in just a few clicks on the same search, one will notice Wikipedia deems a picture of menstrual blood as inappropriate for its site.
It should not be news that nearly 51 percent of the U.S. population is likely to menstruate at some point in their lives. 2015 was not “the year of the period” because for menstruating people, every year includes periods. This normal bodily function is not noteworthy. For it to be treated as such means that 2015 marks another year we inappropriately pat each other on the back and say, “See, we talked about it, so we’re done.”
Having a period doesn’t make someone more of a woman than someone without one. This bodily function can, undeniably, be an incredible inconvenience, prophesying three to seven days of frequent bathroom stops, cramps, bloating and acne. But while dealing with a period can be disruptive in one’s daily routine, having a period at all can be seen as a privilege to some. Regular periods denote iron and calcium sufficiency — two essential vitamins for women’s overall health — and signify women’s ability to avoid osteoporosis and fertility.
Despite the benefits, the cycle can be exasperating when supplies are scarce and the burden weighs entirely on a woman’s conscience and wallet.
Women foot about an annual $108 bill for tampons alone on average. Along with a healthy uterus and regular visits from Aunt Flo come the necessity to see a gynecologist semi-regularly. This, on average, costs around $136 per visit without insurance, or depends on the availability of free or sliding-scale clinics like Planned Parenthood.
Costs only increase with health issues and vaginal complications like uterine fibroids, which are benign but painful tumors that form in a uterus and lead to symptoms like anemia and excessive bleeding during periods. All in all, having a vagina can cost upward of $2,600 a year.
The financial burden on people with periods is not eased by the shaming stigma that is placed on top of the function. The disregard and contempt for menstruation isn’t just damning to the people who have them, it’s a juvenile and outdated attitude that our society needs to move past.
UC Santa Cruz acknowledges that safe sex is imperative and offers discounted and free condoms to students. While these products cost the school money despite discounts, it does not mean free and discounted tampons, pads and other waste-reducing alternatives like Diva cups are not also necessary.
The importance of available sex education and testing services cannot be understated, but they don’t outrank the accessibility to feminine hygiene products either. The Disability Resource Center and the Dean of Students do have some pads and tampons available, but the availability is intermittent and based on whether the products have been donated. College students are already working on a limited income and UCSC needs to step up and at the very least, make sure tampons and pads are affordable and regularly stocked in all women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms, and place accessible disposal bins in every stall.
The more menstruation is regarded as shameful and “period” considered a dirty word, the less access women have to education about menstrual health and complications. The internalization of the stigma around women’s bodies makes people believe periods are an inherently painful experience, and prevents them from seeking help for what may be a common medical condition.
Increasing access to hygiene products and talking more about periods would go a long way toward dismantling the stigma and improving education about menstruation. Period.