Remember in high school when we’d sneak tampons into our UGG boots, lest anyone in English class discover our naughty secret that we were menstruating? Of course you do — it’s a tale as old as time for any young person who gets their period.
The stigma surrounding menstruation causes a lot of anxiety among young people (and honestly, not-so-young people) who go to great lengths to transport menstrual products to the restroom without anyone noticing. And you know what? It’s beyond time that stigma is unraveled. Luckily for the fine folks of Brookline, Massachusetts, one Jewish girl with buckets of chutzpah successfully made it her mission to pull the string (pun intended).
Rising Kenyon College sophomore Sarah Groustra wrote an opinion piece in her then high school newspaper last year about the dire need to destigmatize periods. “One of the simplest ways to break down a stigma is simply to talk about it,” she wrote in The Sagamore, Brookline High School’s student paper. “The only reason why menstruation is equated with weakness is because of its association with women.” The column caught the eye of Rebecca Stone, an elected member of Brookline’s legislative body, who’s collaborative efforts with Groustra and her peers led to Brookline becoming the first municipality in the country to provide free tampons and pads in public buildings. Hell yeah!
Groustra’s article was eye opening for Stone. “It talked about things having to do with period-shaming that… simply never occurred to me,” she recently told NPR. “And, of course, once you start seeing it, it becomes more and more obvious what a fundamental issue this is for gender equity and for the dignity of women and female-bodied individuals.
The town of Brookline has until July 2021 to comply with the new ruling and install dispensers with menstrual hygiene products. It’ll cost about $40K upfront, and another $7,500 every year to provide the goods, but with a $300 million dollar budget, it’s merely a drop in the bucket, NPR reports.
Groustra says she felt compelled to write the article that catalyzed this groundbreaking menstrual product reform when she realized she was part of the problem. “We all used these menstrual products but we’re all really scared to be seen holding them,” she told me in a recent phone conversation. “I realized that I’m just as complacent as everyone else when it came to this deeply ingrained shame about menstrual products.”
Goustra added she used to hide her tampons in her sleeve by pretending to reach into her backpack for a pencil.
“The funny thing is my friends and I would be so proud of how sneaky we were being with it,” Groustra said. “I would get them into my shoes and we’d think that we had like, beat the system.”
When Stone reached out to Groustra, the 19-year-old said she was “honored and surprised and kind of everything in between.”
Grousta was floored by how pragmatically and efficiently Stone found a solution to destigmatizing periods: “I feel very lucky to live in a place where local government seems to so accurately reflect the issues that many people are thinking about.”
Not only are many scared to carry a tampon or pad to the bathroom, but they’re uneasy about using the actual names of menstrual products in conversation. So when Stone and Groustra’s peers — Era Laho, Eva Stanley, Carter Mucha, and Alison Keenan — wrote the proposal for the legislation, there was no skirting around the issue. “They were very plain about what this was,” Groustra says.
By introducing specific language into public legislation, Groustra hopes that it will hasten the normalization of pads and tampons.
For now Groustra’s off studying English and theater in college, but the trailblazing, young Jewish feminist continues to fight period stigma wherever she is by unabashedly pulling out a tampon in public and strutting to the bathroom, no shame.
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