by Meg Hinson
A national movement is descending upon Macalester: the provision of free menstrual health products in public restrooms. While this sentiment has existed for as long as capitalism has extorted money from people to fulfill their basic health needs, the movement really kicked off in 2013 after Nancy Kramer gave a TEDxColumbus talk on the importance and necessity of freely accessible menstrual products. As a technology entrepreneur, Kramer works for Apple and one day noticed a basket of tampons and pads in the office bathroom, inspiring her to give a TEDx talk and start a movement. Further busting through the layer of stigma around menstruation, Jessica Valenti wrote “The Case for Free Tampons” for The Guardian to highlight the fact that access to menstrual products is a health issue and a social issue. This and similar articles began appearing after Kramer’s talk, discussing the needs of people who menstruate and sparking debate over whether menstrual health products are truly something that merits being given away freely, as toilet paper is, or a luxury item each person must procure themself.
Students across the nation have come forward to say that menstrual health products are a basic supply they expect their institution to provide. There have been countless stories shared of embarrassing moments when menstrual health products were inaccessible, compelling some students to leave classes or other events so as to gain the basic products they need. For others, monthly menstrual health products are a significant financial burden. While the benefit of providing free menstrual health products is significant, there are also concerns, namely cost. Institutions fear a system of free menstrual health products will be exploited by students and drain resources. This fear in part assumes that all people will want to use the menstrual products provided in restrooms, neglecting the fact that people’s brand loyalty will compel them to use their own products, as will the fact that menstrual health products provided in restrooms are often not of the quality or style one desires, making them an item one needs, and not an item one frivolously uses.
Numerous colleges have joined the debate as students begin petitions to advocate for reformed access to menstrual health products. The University of Minnesota pursued access to free menstrual products through the Minnesota Student Association (MSA). MSA presented a proposal to the administration outlining the need for this service, and the program has been implemented at the University of Minnesota. More action is to come, as currently free menstrual products are only available in women’s restrooms and MSA would like to expand the program to all men’s and all gender restrooms as well. The pride University of Minnesota students take in this program indicates that this is a promising first step.
As a liberal arts college with a strong activist presence, many Macalester students have been aware of this dialogue for some time. For the past four years, Mactivists for Reproductive Justice have hosted a menstrual health panel that concludes with a sustainable menstrual health product give away. The products most sought after at this event are menstrual cups, the most popular of which is the Diva Cup, which comes with an imposing cost of $30. Paying $30 for a product one has never used and one may not like seems wasteful, but being able to try a free one through this program results in many happy customers who do not need to spend another dollar on menstrual health products for up to ten years (and possibly more). This year, the head of Student Services and Relations Ariana Hone ’18 has taken up the gauntlet of securing free menstrual health products in all restrooms at Macalester. On a campus where the majority of students have a uterus, a clear need for accessible menstrual products exists. While some bureaucratic barriers must still be surpassed to enshrine accessible menstrual products in Macalester policy and thus ensure all future students maintain access, at this time it seems clear that the movement for accessible menstrual health products will persist and win on Macalester’s campus.