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Should Tampons Be Free in Public? Many Say It's Time to Flush Outdated Taboos

A 'Free the Tampons' campaign seeks to make feminine products accessible in every bathroom outside the home

Published on: March 01, 2016

UPDATE (June 22, 2016)

As of June 21, 2016, New York City is on its way to becoming the country's first city requiring free tampons and sanitary pads in, among other spaces, public schools. Could this be a sign of things to come?

ORIGINAL STORY (March 2, 2016)

In a land where quarters are scarce — hello, debit cards — I’m so happy to know people are trying to free the tampons. Recently, The New York Times Well blog reported on the many ways people in America are trying to change the period landscape. And yes, we are taking about menstrual periods here, that verboten monthly happening that won’t go away and deserves to be talked about the way men talk so freely about (yes, I’ll write it) their penii.

Although each campaign mentioned in writer Roni Caryn Rabin’s “Free the Tampon” article is righteous, I’ve culled a few highlights here. Rabin writes that “a growing number of advocates, entrepreneurs and female lawmakers are challenging the taboo, talking about menstruation publicly (and, yes, in mixed company). They want periods put squarely on the public agenda, and are demanding that businesses and government take menstruation into consideration when they design facilities, develop budgets, supply schools or create anti-poverty programs. And they want tampons in every public restroom. And they want them to be free.”

Finally, free to be a girl who menstruates without asking a friend for a quarter. Oh, to never wad up toilet paper into a makeshift pad again. This is why Nancy Kramer, an entrepreneur from Columbus, Ohio, started Free the Tampons, a campaign to make feminine products accessible and free in every bathroom outside the home. “Tampons and pads should be treated just like toilet paper — they’re the equivalent,” said Nancy Kramer in the article. Rabin writes that “stocking restrooms at a school or business with sanitary supplies works out to $4.67 per girl per year.”

Since I recently wrote “Period Proud: New Apps, Products and Awareness Help Girls Feel Good About Old Aunt Flo,” the teen activists jump off the page. Vienna Vernose, a senior at a private school in Newtown, Pa., talked with her classmates in her Women Women’s History Seminar about a boy who said “ew” in response to a tampon falling out of her backpack. Vernose started the Menstrual Product Equality campaign, placing bowls of free tampons “in public areas during the school’s open house. Signs next to the bowls read, ‘These are here for anyone who needs them. Never be ashamed of your body and what it needs.’”

Although my own teen is probably not ready to decorate her locker with a collection of menstrual products for her classmates, I can’t wait to share this news with her. We’ve already talked about how men don’t have to buy these products. Does she know that most states tax sanitary products even though “most states exempt nonluxury items like groceries and prescription drugs from sales taxes because they are considered necessities”?

She already knows there’s nothing luxurious about the unexpected arrival of her period during 4th period. For her and all the other girls I know, I’ll sign this online petition started by Cosmopolitan magazine that asks for these taxes to be removed.

Read the rest of The Well column here. I have to admit this article contains some of the most hopeful news I’ve read in a while. Here’s to being period proud and changing the world by freeing the tampons. 

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