Periods are often weaponized to make people with wombs feel inferior to men. They’re considered disgusting—something that should never be seen or talked about: People are mocked for having blood stains on their clothes. Around the world, periods keep people out of school and work, but period pain is often undertreated. In Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf amplifies the voices of the marginalized people who are often penalized for menstruating.
From traveling to India to interview women who are forced to craft their own menstrual products to mining each state’s tax code to uncover the “pink tax,” Weiss-Wolf highlights how shame is used to drive the economy of menstrual products. Each year, states earn roughly $120 million from taxing menstrual products while Pop-Tarts, golf-club memberships, sunflower seeds, and cowboy boots are tax-exempt. Menstrual products aren’t considered “necessary” purchases, allowing for states, including Utah, to thwart attempts to exempt menstrual products from taxation.
“Among the reasons for rejecting [bills] were fears of a too-subjective tax code and concerns about recouping $1 million in lost revenue,” Weiss-Wolf wrote about Utah’s refusal to end taxation. “Tellingly, the legislators didn’t consider making up the difference by taxing alternative items consumed equally by both men and women, nor did they flinch when confronted with the list of items already chosen for sales tax exemption— ‘necessities’ like arcade games tokens, vending machine potato chips, and snowblowers.”
Illustration via Study Breaks
Both the tax and the fact that food stamps can’t be used to purchase menstrual products creates a hopelessly rigged system whereby those who live in poverty cannot access the supplies they need. People with periods are forced to choose between menstrual products and food, bills, or clothes, furthering the idea that such products are a luxury rather than a necessity. If people living in poverty have a hard time accessing menstrual products, for the homeless it’s nearly impossible: Not only do they have extreme difficulty getting menstrual products, but they must find elusive safe places in which to change them.
Weiss-Wolf asks readers to picture the least palatable and most grotesque version of any of these items: newspapers and bags salvaged from dumpsters, toilet paper stockpiled in dank public restrooms, discarded socks from donation piles. As she concludes, “Menstruation becomes not just a source of humiliation but utterly and undeniably a health and safety risk.”
Weiss-Wolf herself was unaware of the problem until she saw a donation drive for menstrual products, and decided to join the team and create her own fundraiser. She spent time with an organization called Lava Mae, a free mobile-hygiene clinic that allows homeless people showers and get hygienic products. For a 2016 photo essay on Medium, “Blood in the Streets: Coping with Menstruation While Homeless” she spent hours with homeless folks in San Francisco, collecting their stories and helping them feel like people, rather than vermin on the streets.
Photo via Arcade Publishing
Whatever struggles people in poverty, homeless, or abroad have, trans and nonbinary people feel the pain thrice over. They are attacked for existing, so trying to find a place to change their products increases the danger. A study conducted UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law found that 70 percent of transgender and nonconforming participants had a negative experience in a public restroom while health insurance companies are hesitant to cover transgender people and doctors aren’t properly trained to handle their specific issues with menstruating. Some doctors outright refuse to treat trans people while others constantly postpone, until they’re forced to go elsewhere. Not including transgender and nonconforming people in the conversation of menstrual equity only furthers their exclusion.
Periods Gone Public is full of information, so much so that it takes multiple readings to digest it all. Though the chapters are long, Weiss-Wolf breaks down the information into specific subjects so that readers can finish a subsection of a chapter, put it down, and pick it up later without missing a beat. She doesn’t just give information or point out all the flaws within our government and culture, she offers game plans and resources, encouraging readers to call their representatives, join activist groups, start donation drives, and more. Weiss-Wolf is starting a menstrual revolution to eliminate the weaponization of periods and create a better, healthier world for people who bleed.