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Menstruation Nation: America's Report Card

Menstruation Nation: America's Report Card

Period news is so hot right now, but how do we score on progress for women’s health?


America's 2015 Report Card on the Menstruation Movement by Lauren Schulte

2015 Report Card Highlights

It’s been an important year with widespread media coverage about menstruation, and there’s a brighter future for the menstruation movement. However, the momentum of media coverage needs to be channeled into real change that helps women in their daily lives.

Consider this:

Report Card Details

Awareness: A-

How aware are we of the problems faced by women related to menstruation with respect to stigma, policy, innovation and education?

  • Menstruation news gained some serious street cred in 2015. NPR declared it the Year of the Period and noted that menstruation articles in five major media publications more than tripled from 2010 to 2015, from 47 to 167.
  • Cosmopolitan magazine declared that 2015 was “the year the period went public” and New York City subway stations became awash in ads for “period panties”.
  • Kiran Gandhi made international headlines after running the London Marathon without a tampon, coining the term “free bleeding”.
  • Awareness for trans and intersexed human rights have gained some momentum, but feminine hygiene products have largely left these groups ignored.

2015 changed the game, but awareness still has room to grow, otherwise there would be more radical change and innovation across all sectors impacting menstruation.

Education: C-

Do we understand the basic facts about our bodies and the products we use?

  • Under pressure from consumers, P&G and Kimberly Clark began listing ingredients in their feminine hygiene products last October.
  • Programs like Stanford University’s Heart to Heart community education program help girls and moms connect about menstruation in effective ways.
  • Most women in the United States learn about their own bodies through severely lacking sexual education programs, which can lead to a lifetime of misinformation or getting knocked up before you want to.
  • 67% of American women can’t locate their cervix according to The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
  • 24-year-old model Lauren Wasser lost her leg to TSS and sued Kotex.
  • Tampons are widely used by American women, yet the scientific facts around their safety are still hotly contested, and there’s no proof organic tampons are better for our health (or that they don’t cause TSS).
  • Top selling vaginal wipes and douches are not only unnecessary, they’re also not tested by the FDA.

Until we have an overhaul of sex education in the United States, we’ll continue to struggle with misinformation about our bodies and menstruation. And as long as we can’t accurately identify our own anatomy (and we’re too embarrassed to talk about it), problems arise and innovation will be lacking.

Empowerment: B-

How pervasive are the taboos about periods and how available are safe and productive forums for people to talk about these issues?

  • Instagram got caught in a media firestorm after removing a photo of a fully clothed woman with a period stain.
  • Sites like BuzzFeed have published lots of viral content tackling menstruation taboos such as period sex but still underscore sentiment by women that we’ve been conditioned to think that our own blood is “gross”.
  • An American study demonstrated that menstruating women are viewed negatively; “dropping the tampon led to lower evaluations of the confederate’s competence, decreased liking for her, and a marginal tendency to avoid sitting close to her.”
  • Women are still going to great lengths to hide their tampons; manufacturers continue to respond by making more compact tampons with discreet, candy-colored wrappers.
  • After a debate, Donald Trump accused Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly of asking sharp questions and implied that she was menstruating “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
  • Trump later called Hilary Clinton “disgusting” when she was five minutes late to the Democratic National Debate after getting stuck in the bathroom, which drew more attention to the inequities of women’s bathrooms in America and highlighted widely-held misogynistic views of women’s hygiene.

It’s hard to believe that after all of the progress we’ve made this year, those with political and financial power are still trying to hold women back and not being held meaningfully accountable for their anachronistic views.

Public Policy: C

How equitable are the laws and practices in place that impact menstrual health?

  • 40 out of 50 states charge a “luxury” tax on feminine hygiene products, along with our monthly private jet purchases.
  • New York City Councilwoman Jessica Ferreras is pushing for free feminine hygiene products in local schools and created a roundtable on menstruation.
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, has been trying to find out what ingredients are in our menstruation products for almost 20 years. In April, she reintroduced legislation — for the ninth time since 1997 — that would require manufacturers to label the fabrics, colorants, dyes and preservatives used in pads and tampons.
  • “At the federal level, simple but meaningful change also can be achieved — for example, by amending the IRS Tax Code so that menstrual products are eligible for Flexible Spending Account allowances.”
  • Food stamps and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs have yet to include feminine hygiene items, which can be a lifeline for single mothers.

New York is crushing this category. It will be exciting to see what other states and municipal governments have in store for 2016. And if you want to abolish the luxury tax on period products, sign this petition.

Innovation: C-

What f*king awesome new science and technology have been introduced to positively impact menstrual health?

No matter whether menstruation products on the market are truly new, it’s heartening that more female leaders are stepping up to address these issues and that women are asking questions about their current products, becoming aware of alternative products, and trying them on for size.

A Final Thought

When we look back twenty years from now I hope to view 2015 as a watershed moment in women’s health.

But raising awareness is just the beginning of this journey.

I’m optimistic that the growing number of leaders in this space will both push independently and collectively to continue the momentum across these five metrics of success.

What will 2016 bring? Stay tuned for predictions.

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