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Bleedin' in the USA

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In rural Nepal, women are banished to a secluded shed as they are considered polluted while menstruating. This has led to deaths due to poor sanitation and lack of care during a time when women are especially vulnerable. In Sub-Saharan Africa, some girls are forced to use rags, cotton balls, or even sawdust to stem their flow. But we’re different here in the U.S.A., right? Not really.

Unlike most European countries, and even Kenya, which falls into the category of a developing country, menstruation in America is expensive. 43 states still uphold the tampon tax—a luxury tax placed on menstrual products that indicate that they are not a necessity, unlike food, some drugs, and (in some states) even men’s razors. Programs such as SNAP (also known as ‘food stamps’), and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) help provide food for low-income people; yet, there is nothing for menstruation. Like most developing countries, there is limited sexual education in the U.S. Only 22 states require sexual education to be part of the curriculum, and only 13 require that information to be ‘medically accurate’; most are also required to send a letter home to inform parents what is going to be taught, giving parents the option to pull their children from “the talk.”   

Although not as visible as in other parts of the world, the United States still promotes the shame associated with periods. When artist Rupi Kaur posted a picture of her period-stained sweatpants, Instagram deleted it twice. The very fact that ads still abstain from using actual blood, or even red liquid, in commercials depicting a period is bad enough.

The rhetoric in the White House forebodes the menstrual future. Even before he was elected, Trump referred to periods as something that made women inferior to men and used it as an excuse to not take women seriously. His response to Megyn Kelly’s question regarding his treatment of women was that she had “blood coming out of her wherever.” A similar attitude is reflected throughout his party. “Valid, scientifically-proven” concerns as to why Hillary Clinton should not be elected president cited PMS mood swings, and when it was pointed out that Clinton was a tad too old for that, the new excuse became menopause. While unsuccessful, the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) included the ability for insurance providers to categorize period irregularities as a pre-existing condition. “Period irregularities” span a broad category, ranging from having an unusually heavy flow to painful cramps that would require medication—under such vague terms insurers could take advantage of even minor conditions.

However, recent years have seen our country shedding some of its period-shame. Although controversial, movements such as free-bleeding (the act of not wearing menstrual products while on one’s period) have caught on with women who can afford menstrual products, making their act a choice, whatever their motivation. Tampon Rallies, such as the one held in UC Berkeley in April 2017, have also come into the mainstream with the creation of Menstrual Hygiene Day. Some politicians have taken these movements to heart, with New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, making it mandatory for menstrual products to be provided in all public-school bathrooms grades six to twelve as of April 2018. Bills such as the ones from Democratic Representative of New York Grace Meng—the first to make periods more affordable by placing some of the cost on employers, the second to disclose the ingredients in menstrual products—have also been introduced into the House.   

In short: remain aware. Don’t expect America to be on the cutting edge of everything, and know that even as an individual you can make a change. Take part in rallies, and become a leader in movements you care about, whether related to menstrual health or not.  Back an organization such as Planned Parenthood and donate menstrual products to homeless shelters. Call your representatives and voice your opinions. The world is progressing, but only because activists are pushing it forward.

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Graphic by Janie Peacock


written by
Uma Smith
February 4, 2019