If you have ever menstruated, you understand the panic and desperation that comes with needing a pad or tampon and not having one. In these situations, salvation may come in the form of a better-prepared friend, or a Good Samaritan who can empathize – or, it may come from dropping a quarter into one of the handy sanitary products dispensers that are commonly found in public women’s bathrooms.
I recently tried to use the sanitary products dispenser in the women’s restroom in Thomases Commons only to lose my quarter to the dusty, creaky machine and receive nothing in return. By the look and sound of its crooked and wobbly levers, it probably hadn’t been restocked or given a second glance since before I enrolled at Ramapo nearly four years ago, and I was frustrated by its complete uselessness. It made me wonder if any of these dispensers across Ramapo’s campus worked.
What I observed in my mini investigation of 37 women’s restrooms on campus was not a major problem in itself – a few broken tampon dispensers are certainly nothing to lose sleep over – but, rather, one more symptom of society’s lack of consideration for the needs of those with menstrual cycles.
In 40 U.S. states, tampons are considered to be a non-necessity and are subject to sales taxes, according to an article on fusion.net, “Notably, some states don’t tax items such as pregnancy tests (Colorado), disposable heating pads (Vermont), or incontinence pads for bladder dysfunction (North Dakota, Connecticut)—but still tax tampons.” The failure to recognize these products as necessary for one’s health and wellbeing speaks to a lack of representation for those who aren’t cisgender men within the institutions that make these decisions.
And what’s more frustrating on a personal level is the tendency for this same demographic of people, who don’t experience menstruation, to make judgments about those who do. Misogyny is the root of negativity that comes from conversations about periods and vaginal hygiene – men characterize women as irrational and emotionally unstable by the value of what they see as a woman’s inherent biological vice, and bodily functions associated with women are met with a reaction of stark disgust. Those who are assigned as female by society are taught to be secretive and shameful of their periods, so that no man has to suffer the offense of being grossed out by something that nearly half of the earth’s population goes through on a monthly basis.
Both this physical neglect and emotional abuse of people with periods due to misogyny are major societal problems that are not often talked about, once again, due to the stigma and juvenile squeamishness that come about in conversations about menstruation. But for every person who has felt the frustration of purchasing an overpriced period product or the embarrassment of having their body’s natural processes brought under harsh scrutiny, the conversation must continue and a push must be made for more accessible hygiene and less body shaming and silencing.
As for Ramapo College’s empty, busted bathroom dispensers, the best solution is to either start stocking and maintaining them, or get rid of them and the false hope they represent for someone in a desperate situation. Hopefully, the fight for women’s rights won’t end up as abandoned as these machines, and the conversation on women’s health won’t continue to ring as hollow as my wasted quarters clunking to the bottom of a metal box.