The fight for menstrual rights was headed by students and activists who gathered at UC Berkeley campus October 18 to protest the stigma surrounding periods. The goal of the protest was primarily to create an open dialogue about menstruation, a topic that has suffered from being widely considered taboo. “Every kind of social change,” said UC Berkeley Sophomore and founder of PERIOD chapter, Allison Lu, in an interview for Berkeleyside, “begins with the de-stigmatization. We can’t make any fundamental social change until that has happened.”
For decades, the topic of periods and society’s approach (or lack thereof) to it is plagued by stigma. There are problems that could be solved with policy changes, and then there are more complicated issues, results of misogyny in the way society is structured and in clinical research to date. Historically, medical science has ignored female bodies and used male anatomy as the archetype of how everyone should function. The framework of society, inextricable with misogyny, pays no mind to painful bleeding. It starts in schools. A study by the Journal of Women’s Health found, “one in five young women (20%) reported missing school or university due to period pain.” This makes it one of the leading causes of short term absence from school.
At UC Berkeley, protesters also demanded the repeal of the tampon tax, and access to menstrual hygiene in schools and places of work. Berkeley High School (BHS) senior and previous junior class vice president Rachel Alper was successful in getting BHS to provide free pads and tampons in six of the women’s restrooms on campus, which is a great demonstration of the self advocacy of students and an accomplishment for menstrual rights. However, one year later students report that the more difficult task is keeping them restocked and functional. “The tampon dispensers are always broken or empty,” said AC junior Luna Neumann” She is echoed by innumerable students who have been left without the basic resources they need during school. Said AC sophomore Raquel Matthews, “there are no period products in the bathrooms at all.”
In gender neutral and men’s restrooms, one will almost never find menstrual hygiene products. As August Stangl said, “It’s very difficult for trans people on their period to get those resources.”
BHS bathroom policies, in particular, seem to disregard the reality of what having a period means. “Bathroom passes limit us” said AC senior Daphne Ελευθεριάδου. The majority of BHS teacher restrict when and how often students are allowed to use the restroom, which could mean only twice a semester or one student at a time. Many teachers even go as far as to reward unused bathroom passes with extra credit when grades are due, which puts pressure on students for something over which they have no control. Female bodied students are furthermore unfairly affected by these policies because inability to take care of their bodies can detract from their concentration and performance. “Teachers,” added IB senior Claire Renoe, “should not ask you why you left class!” With a six minute passing period, lines for the stalls, and a campus that spans two city blocks, using the restroom outside of class is not much of an option.
Currently, the Women’s Student Union at Berkeley High is working on reforming bathroom policies to better serve students who may be on their periods. While the tampon tax forces keeps many women from being able to afford hygiene products, and stigma teaches young women that menstruation is something to hide, BHS should strive to be a champion of menstrual rights and an example to society at large.