Starting Sunday, Dec. 4, USG is piloting a program in Frist to gauge student interest in having free menstrual products available in our public restrooms.
Recently, the movement to “free the tampon” has swept the country. Thanks to the efforts of the student government at Brown this past September, menstrual products are now provided in every non-residential college bathroom (of all genders) there. The same month, a referendum for free menstrual products passed with 78.6 percent support at Cornell. After weeks of debate shortly after, Columbia reinstated a similar free pads and tampons program in the student health center.
As with the movement writ-large, USG’s project is about ensuring accessibility and easing the lives of people who menstruate on the principle that having a period shouldn’t be harder than having safe sex. It’s about reducing financial burdens and not punishing or shaming students because their period came a day early, or they didn’t have time to run to the U-Store between problem set submissions last week, or their water bottle leaked and ruined their usual supply of pads...It’s about recognizing that life at Princeton is hard and unpredictable enough as it is, and when something unexpected happens, it shouldn’t feel like the end of the world.
But it’s also about a bit more — to me, this pilot is about asking the campus to think critically about its feminism and whether it is doing everything it can to respect women’s bodies and autonomy, including by examining whether its treatment of periods contributes to implicit shaming and stigmatization of a natural biological process.
This project comes at a confused, erratic moment in our discourse about women’s health. Beyond the ivory tower, President Obama called out the “Tampon Tax,” public schools in New York started stocking tampons, #periodsarenotaninsult trended, and NPR labeled 2015 “the year of the period”; in those same two years, America also elected a president who used period innuendo to deauthorize journalist Megyn Kelly’s criticisms of his misogyny. While the rest our peers do the work of unpacking these national conversations about periods and grappling with its implications on our country’s hugely divergent views on womanhood, Princeton has remained dead silent. For Princeton to leave these issues wholly unaddressed is for Princeton to be complacent with an incomplete feminism. In a moment where sexually violent language and disrespect for women’s bodies has become part of our normative gendered behavior, I don’t think we can allow our University — our roommates, our teammates, our advisors, ourselves — to take this easy way out. Of course I would like to see this program widely adopted, but what’s most important for me is to know I attend a University where sexism is debated, uncovered, and, if found, opposed.
To Princeton, I ask: when people who menstruate have to manage their bodies without the support given to other basic hygiene practices, does it trivialize the burden of this process, or recognize the self-sufficiency of those who endure it? Does the responsibility of financing personal hygiene specific to your reproductive functions prove self-reliance, or does it docilely accept an imposed, involuntary tax? Does our complete silence on the issue here at Princeton constitute a taboo, reifying a norm of derision and disgust around reproduction, or does it simply reflect a more privileged female experience within the Orange Bubble in which the functioning of women’s bodies is not a subject of criticism at all?
For two weeks, the pilot will provide pads and tampons in women’s, men’s, and gender-neutral bathrooms throughout Frist, and is intended to gauge student interest in a more far-reaching program going forward. It’s short, impermanent, and imperfect. Even if a program is adopted, “where”, “how”, and “for whom”, are all decisions that we, as a University, still need to make. Your engagement in this discussion is critical to shaping what Princeton stands for. Whether you come out loving tampons or not, I urge you to take this moment to think critically about the role of gender norms in your everyday lives, share your thoughts and feedback, and ensure your choices respect the difference, dignity, and autonomy of everyone in the community.
Cailin Hong is a USG Class of 2017 Senator and Menstrual Products Project Leader from San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.