Using a public restroom can be embarrassing in several situations. There’s that moment when you disappoint a waiter by asking where the bathroom is instead of buying food. There’s that other moment when you have to go “number two” in a public restroom and try, but fail, to go quietly. These can be pretty humiliating to live through, but in most situations, they’re easy to move on from. However, there’s nothing more uncomfortable and inconvenient than that moment when you’re changing your tampon and there is no trashcan in the bathroom stall. Frankly, moments like these shouldn’t even be commonplace to begin with.
Over the past few days, Brown University has received acclaim for its new policy, which provides tampons and pads free of charge in male, female, and even gender -inclusive restrooms in nonresidential academic buildings. Pushed by the schools’ Undergraduate Council of Students, the policy has been acclaimed by college students and other public figures for symbolizing a step forward in the fight to increase the accessibility of menstrual hygiene products. The acclaim the school and its student council has received is well-deserved. However, like any large movement, it’s important not to stay stagnant. Let’s be proud. Let’s celebrate this step forward. However, let’s also ask ourselves, what’s the next step?
Normalizing the period can take many forms. Last year, sisters Rupi and Prahb Kaur led a fight to end “period-shaming” through photography after an image from their photo series, Period, was removed from Rupi’s Instagram account twice. Since the March 2015 incident, the banned photo featuring Rupi lying on her side with a bloodstain on the back of her sweatpants has been shared on social media as an ode to end the hesitance with which we discuss periods. Similarly, during the Rio Olympics this past summer, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui openly stated that stomach pains associated with her period may have had an impact on her performance in the 4 X 100 medley relay. Photographs and words clearly play a big role of ensuring that the period is treated as a normal part of conversation and media. As Brown University’s new policy proves, legislation and official policies, on the other hand, ensure that the period is treated as a normal part of everyday living.
Photo of Rupi Kaur from the “Period” series that was removed from Kaur’s Instagram account
Getting your period isn’t always convenient. As Jennifer Lawrence, whose period led her to wear a loose-fitting dress instead of a tight dress to the 2016 Golden Globes, would attest to, though us women are pretty good at staying on our feet while on our period, there is no denying that at times it can cause some minor detours. Thus, it doesn’t help when surrounding circumstances add inconveniences to an already full plate. Nothing is more inconvenient than having a tampon or pad, but having nowhere to throw a used one away. We’ve seen the precedent for a country where students don’t have to awkwardly escape the lecture hall because they forgot their spare pad in their dorm. Now, let’s see a precedent for a country where not just students, but women everywhere don’t have to awkwardly sit on the toilet in a bathroom stall wondering where they’re going to put a used toiletry or how they’re going to avoid disapproving glances on their walk of shame to the trashcan outside. The policy to include trashcans in bathroom stalls goes hand in hand with the fight to provide pads and tampons.
Bathrooms stalls without trashcans only make women more uncomfortable with a bodily function that is completely normal. Some might say, “Well, the world doesn’t revolve around women.” Well, what if you sneezed and there were no tissues around? What if you went to the bathroom and there was no hand soap? What if – you get the picture. Wouldn’t you be confused, if not downright pissed off? There’s nothing more annoying than a bathroom stall that has a sign saying, “Please do not flush female toiletries,” yet doesn’t have a trashcan in sight. Periods may come once a month for each individual woman, but in large institutions like universities, workspaces, hospitals, or hotels, especially since women spend numerous hours in these spaces, there’s a chance of a woman being on her period every day. Getting your period is as normal as sneezing. In the same way that public spaces are so quick to provide tissues – and in some instances even Purell – they should be able to provide trashcans in bathroom stalls.
So, we have our next step: from free tampons to simply, some freaking trash cans. Where do we go from here? We go to our institutions and, most importantly, our political leaders. Especially in current times, it’s pretty easy to question our politicians using vague terms. For example, we may wonder of our mayor, Is she/he a feminist? As feminists here at VocaLady Magazine, however, it’s not just important that people claim that they are feminists but that they prove it. Encourage your local politicians to provide pads, tampons, and trashcans in local institutions that draw massive crowds. This past July, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation lifting the tax on menstruation products, a measure that is expected to save women in New York State $10 million a year, according to The Guardian. Encourage your politicians to do the same! It’s also important to take advantage of your position if you are a college student. Round up the masses, whether by protest, letter, or petition, to encourage free pads, tampons, and trashcans in school restrooms. Being a feminist isn’t just about what we say or share on social media, but what we try to change.
*Although this article uses the word “woman” to denote those who menstruate, please that not all women menstruate and not all those who menstruate identify as female.