Opinion: Some things are bigger than money

A period products dispenser is seen in a campus bathroom. People who have access to free feminine hygiene supplies tend to feel more confident, represented and comfortable. (Megan Brugger)

It was my second-to-last class of the day, and I was ready to be done with lectures, go back to my dorm, put on sweats and get going on the homework I had been putting off. The lecture ended, and as I stood up I began to panic: I was unprepared for Aunt Flo’s early arrival. I put my jacket around my waist and raced to the nearest bathroom. I made it but soon realized the only feminine hygiene dispenser was located in the handicap stall, which was occupied.

After what seemed like hours of nervous waiting, I got in and was greeted by the “Only $0.25!” sticker that looked like it had been there since the building itself was built. I thought to myself, “I forgot a tampon — there’s no way I’ll have a quarter.” Embarrassed and frustrated, I began the long trek to my apartment for supplies and was late to my next class.

According to Free the Tampons, an organization fighting for free menstrual products in every restroom outside of the home, an estimated 86% of women aged 18–54 will experience starting their period in public without the supplies they need. Of these, 79% will have to improvise with toilet paper and 34% will be forced to rush home immediately. 

This is unacceptable.

Periods are nothing new. Women have been dealing with them since the beginning of mankind. Since they are so common, why are they still such a taboo topic? Why do women still have to pay for supplies for a normal bodily function they have no control over? Why should a woman have to be late for a class because her university had not taken measures to help all women deal with this regular occurence?

A focus group held by the BYUSA Student Advisory Council concluded women who have access to free feminine hygiene supplies feel more confident, represented and comfortable. 

Some might worry if products were offered for free, buildings would lose revenue from those dusty metal boxes because women would take as many as they like. But think: if products were always provided free, then a woman would have no reason to take more than she needs. Additionally, if a woman feels the need to steal the low-quality cardboard products most commonly offered, then let her. She most likely is in great need.

If businesses are still worried about people stealing more products than they need at the time, there are options. The company “Hooha” has created a system where one can text a specific number located on their dispenser, receive a code and take one product per day. Hooha advocates for leaving out the coin slots, broken knobs and period shame.

Toilet paper and paper towels are free, and no one sees an issue with that. Those necessities are equally important to period products, so why are women still paying so much for them?

One idea is a great number of people in positions of power are men, and men are simply uneducated on the realities of menstruation.

One study done by Hooha highlighted a man who wondered why periods were such a big deal because “don’t women only have to use one tampon per day?”

If more men were included in period education on top of the lack of resources for women, then real changes could happen.

The industrial-grade dispensers most businesses use require a payment of 25 cents before you can twist the dial to receive your product. However, many people do not carry change anymore — especially in this technological age. The quarter machines are not being used regularly, and they are often understocked, hard to access and not user-friendly. Oftentimes, the budget for feminine hygiene supplies in dispensers is based directly on how many quarters are inserted before receiving the product. If no one is using the machines, no quarters are being inserted and the machines are not being refilled.

The small amount of money businesses might be losing is insignificant compared to the important changes offering free products would accomplish.

Offering free menstruation products is a great investment. Some things are bigger than money.

I have a twin brother, and growing up in a pretty conservative area made talking about periods extremely awkward. My brother and I often accompanied my mother grocery shopping, which was not a problem until I hit about 12 years old. My mother would casually throw a box of pads and tampons in the cart right in front of my brother! I was mortified. I even went as far as picking out a shirt or blanket I pretended to be interested in just to cover the forbidden boxes. This went on for a few years before I slowly started to realize periods are not something to hide. 

Why is it that young girls and even grown women feel so embarrassed about a task as simple as grocery shopping for menstrual supplies? Young girls need to be taught periods are nothing to be ashamed of, and they need to know there are resources and help available to them.

Schools and universities need to do a better job of taking care of their female students.

Remember how I almost missed a class because my university failed to provide me with necessary feminine hygiene supplies? That happens to women every day — even every hour — and that is unacceptable.

Men and women in positions of power need to be made aware of the issue and be educated on the realities of menstruation to make adequate and effective changes.

While this is a daunting proposal, there are things people can be doing every day to help women receive the support they need — little by little, day by day until the period talk is no longer one to be embarrassed about. One of the easiest things people can do to improve the situation is talk about periods!

When people get familiar and comfortable talking about an issue, real changes can be made.

—Megan Brugger

Social Media & Opinion Editor

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