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Reframe: Episode 60

Periods Rock!

When we talk about inequality and poverty, there is one issue that is rarely addressed. Even though it is a natural part of life that affects more than 800 million people every day, the menstrual period can still be a source of financial hardship, shame, embarrassment, and even inequity.

Miami, there is a new outreach project called Periods Rock! Which addresses issues such as period poverty, the pink tax, and the ongoing social stigma that still persists in many ways.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, the podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. 

When we talk about inequality and poverty, there is one issue that is rarely addressed. It’s something that’s often hidden away, something most of society tries to make invisible, even thought is a natural part of life that affects more than 800 million people every day.

For many women, as well as for many transgender men, the menstrual period can still be a source of financial hardship, shame, embarrassment, and even inequity.

So here at Miami, there is movement building around a new student outreach project called Periods Rock! Which addresses issues such as period poverty, the pink tax, and the ongoing social stigma that continues to persist in so many ways.

And here to talk about their efforts are Richelle Frabotta, the coordinator of the Sexuality Education Study Center here at Miami, and two of her students - Phoebe Carlson, a senior public health major, and, Kristen Capon, a junior studying family science.

Alright, so Richelle, Phoebe, Kristen, thank you for being on the podcast today.

Richelle Frabotta:

Absolutely. Thanks for having us.

James Loy:

To begin, can you give us an overview of the project? Can you describe Periods Rock! What is the project? What is it all about?

Richelle Frabotta:

Sure. Let me just offer the idea. Last year, I was rolling around my home city of Dayton, and I saw some really cool women, and they were collecting pads and tampons. And so, I went up, I talked to them. I went home, I got some products. I donated them. And I found out, oh, wow, this period poverty stuff is a thing. And I was impressed with these women. And I thought, hey, we should do this at Miami. We have resources. And why wouldn't this project fly? And the Sex Ed Study Center is a totally appropriate place to marry policy, research, and practice, especially with the connection to the community.

So I came in, and I have these wonderful undergraduate associates that I work with, all independent studies. And I said Phoebe. I said Kristen. And then there's a whole bunch of others on our team as well. Hey, let's do this. And that's when Phoebe said …

Phoebe Carlson:

We're here as Periods Rock! to address period poverty at a more local level. We want to start locally and really expand out as we continue this program through semesters here at Miami. Our goal is to collect as many period products as possible, and then redistribute them to local places that are in need of donated period products, like local prisons, local community centers, churches. Like, wherever we can donate products and get them to people who need them the most, is really what we are about.

James Loy:

And this idea of period poverty is a really big central theme that connects a lot of your work with this project. So what is period poverty, and why it is such an issue?

Kristen Capon:

Yes. So period poverty, I believe, is like the lack of having the resources, or the ability, to have the resources for women's hygiene.

Richelle Frabotta:

It's exactly that. It's women, and girls…  and this also, James, includes trans men. So we want to be clear when we say … basically, what we're saying is people who have periods.

So people who have periods often don't have access to resources. Like Kristen said, and that's the poverty part. And the reason that the poverty exists is basically threefold. One, is there's literally a lack of money available to impoverished people who have periods to go buy these products. I remember the stat about how many years a person who has a period, like, over the lifespan, it's about seven years …?

Kristen Capon:

Yep, it’s seven.

Richelle Frabotta:

Then, the total cost if you spend, say, ten to twenty bucks a month, for 12 months, times seven years. That is some cash. So, there's literal poverty involved with this. And then access. And so, the ability to go to a place, like a store, and then buy the products can be challenging, especially for people who have periods in rural areas. Or people in urban areas who just run a life that's so complex and so complicated. Because periods just happen, right? And so, when periods just happen, if you don't have your stash, then you have a problem.

And then, the third area -- that involves this idea of poverty -- are unfair practices, capitalistic practices, such as pink tax. And I know the policy team has done some really good thinking and reading and idea generating about pink tax.

James Loy:

Can you describe what that is? What is the pink tax?

Kristen Capon:

So, the pink tax is basically a tax on women's products. And that's like, you know, for a t-shirt, for example, it's like $10 extra for a woman's t-shirt versus a man's. It could be the same material. It can be made from the same people. It can look exactly the same. But the difference is companies like to kind of … up charge. Because women in society are known for being a little bit more upkeep, and we're a lot more of a problem in the sense of when you're marketing, we are the marketing lens. That's who they want to see. That's who they're marketing towards. And in that, one of the problems is that a lot of women are paying so much money for the same materials. And it, quite honestly, that's not fair.

Richelle Frabotta:

And that idea carries absolutely to feminine hygiene products. And that … do you recall doing some reading about it?

Phoebe Carlson:

Obviously, like, feminine hygiene products are up charged immensely. And it's just because people don't consider them, like, that …

Richelle Frabotta:

Necessary items.

Phoebe Carlson:

… necessary to live. But I mean, all females … or people who have periods would happily disagree to that.

Richelle Frabotta:

You know, this is rooted in some “isms.” Which is another one of the reasons that, the sex ed study center, we wanted to do this. Is because we're very aware of inequities. And so, there's some misogyny in here. There's a lot of classism in here. There's just the idea that female bodies doing natural things like menstruating just should be invisible, or not noted. It's things that I’m used to hearing about in sexuality. For example, the g-spot, which is uniquely an area in female bodies that causes pleasure, wasn't actually named until 1973. Or that the current drawings that we have of clitoral physiology didn't actually get generated until the early 90s, and that's kind of ridiculous.

So this, I think, this idea of poverty that we're talking about in a large sense, as related to people who have periods, is just another example of marginalization. And so, those are, you know … sharing resources with folks who don't have them, or can't get them easily, is a great outcome. But, honestly, the work that we're doing is about making things more equitable, by raising awareness, all the research that the Periods Rock's team has done. There's a passion here along with this learning. That's a huge benefit to a project like this

James Loy:

It’s interesting that this idea of poverty can be expanded to include more than just a lack of money. Because I think a lot of people would just immediately equate the idea of poverty to just, you know, socio-economic status. But I think it’s good you make it clear that this idea of period poverty can affect people on many more levels than on just money alone, which I think, also, leads to some of the policies behind some of the practices that are involved here. Which, I know, is also part of the Periods Rocks project.

There is the research that has gone into the policy, and one of the things that I’ve heard you talk about with regards to this project recently is something called Murphy's Law of Menstruation. And, Kristen, I was wondering if you give us more background on what that is? What is the Murphy's Law of Menstruation?

Kristen Capon:

Yeah. So the Murphy's Law of Menstruation is, basically, it is a bill that went through New York. And the purpose of it was to have free women's hygiene products available to those that are incarcerated, and those who are in public schools, in public areas. So I was actually doing a lot of research on that, actually last night, and there's a few flaws in there. Like, for example, it sounds all nice. And it is. It's great. But the problem that they're facing currently is that they don't have the money to do it. And that's something … Illinois, I mean, there's three states that are doing it currently. It's not exactly called the Murphy's Law of Menstruation. But they're doing their own example of it. Illinois is in debt. I don't know how they're doing it, specifically. But New York, they're forcing the schools to pay for it. And that's a budget that … they're already trying to cover toilet paper. They're already trying to cover soap. And those are actually things that are mandated for them to pay for. So having this, you know, brought in is starting to create a little bit of an issue.

But the Murphy's Law of Menstruation is supposed to bring these women hygiene products, like, let it be available. And it's, so far, I mean, it seems to be working. But it is bringing up a lot of budget issues. And if we can get around that in Ohio, I would like to see that. By being able to look at Ohio and comparing us to New York, California, and Illinois, we'll know what's wrong. We'll be able to figure out where we can take a step, and where we can speak to our legislators, and what we can fix. Because there is data that supports it. And there's also data that helps us fix it. So it's just kind of back and forth.

James Loy:

And how is the process going in California?

Kristen Capon:

So in California, they don't … they just passed it, where it's some free products. And they're still having a lot of issues. Because a lot of their legislators are men, and a lot of the legislators do not agree with it. They do not understand it. And that's simply because they're not period havers. They're not in the same shoes as us. Or they don't understand the implications of not having a tampon on you, or not having a pad on you. Or having to rush home, or not even having the ability to rush home. Like, you could be like a freshman in high school, or even middle school, and not have that ability. So they're still working with that.

Illinois there's not much that came up with it. They passed it. They set aside a budget for it. That's all I got on them. New York is the leader here. New York is the one that has passed the law, has made it with a study that mentioned, I think, it was 18 to 54-year-old women …  or period havers. With that, they just discussed that, like, here's how it feels when you don't have that. Here's how it feels when you don't have a period. And they focused on it. And they also focus on the ability of not being able to get those resources, which can play a huge role when two out of three people are, you know, who live in period poverty can't get resources.

James Loy:

How much of this problem is due to the social stigma that still seems to exist? Or maybe just the unwillingness to have these kinds of conversations? I think the word used before was “invisible.” Which seems like that is also part of the problem here, or part of the issue, culturally speaking, I would imagine.

Richelle Frabotta:

So, and again, getting down to it, what I’m used to thinking and hearing about as a sexuality educator, is the idea of the shame that goes along with what is a typical process that happens to a majority of women, girls, and trans men. This is just what the body does. Yet we have centuries of cultural norming, including shaming, around this process. So this is frustrating. And the shame and the guilt, the heavy emotion, it …

So, I did a presentation yesterday to colleagues on campus. And after the presentation, one of my peers came up and said, hey, maybe we could get some time together to talk about this. And I’m like, sure. And she identified having a young person, an 11 to 12-year-old girl -- who is terrified to start her period. Because she feels like she won't be prepared. You know, because my colleague has resources, including excellent parenting skills, she has a stash all ready to go in her child's book bag. The child felt uncomfortable carrying the stash.

So, when we have developing girls who we, I think, in this room agree, should be proud to be developing girls moving to women. How … what does it say that to carry a bag of pads or tampons is awkward and uncomfortable? What does it say when she gets closer to thinking she might have her period, she's going to be sick, and miss a day of school? And, like I said, my colleague is an excellent parent. We had great conversation. They have resources. Yet this high anxiety and emotional distress. It exists. And I cannot imagine … and that's the point I think Phoebe's, and making and Kristin’s making with the policy is: how do we walk a world that stacks things against us -- meaning period havers, people who have periods -- how do we walk this world that has so many things stacked against us? And compounded by literally being too poor, overtaxed, or unable to get the products. Free bleed is not pretty. And there isn't a woman on the planet who hasn't had that moment where it's like, uh-oh, what am I going to do about this. So much shame is attached to it. And that's really ridiculous. 

Kristen Capon:

Odd fact. Did you know Instagram takes off pictures if it has any type of red stain because of your period.

Phoebe Carlson:

Are you kidding?

Kristen Capon:

No. Not at all. There's like, I mean, like … you know, it's just ridiculous.

Phoebe Carlson:

Wait, no, I definitely think I saw something in the past that … I definitely saw it was like on Self Magazine, or some like Instagram like account, like, that are, like, Health Mag or something like that, where it was someone who had like a period stain on like their like pajamas in bed, or something like that. And it was like taken off Instagram for like being deemed like inappropriate … 

Kristen Capon:

Yeah.

Phoebe Carlson:

… like, nobody should be looking at that, or something. And that to me is ridiculous.

Kristen Capon:

It's just … it's an odd … it's an odd thing that I noticed. I was like, are you kidding me? Like, a red spot? And it could be marker, and they just take it off because people just assume that it's a period.

James Loy:

Seems like a pretty powerful example of the social stigma that still exists.

Kristen Capon & Phoebe Carlson:

Yeah!

Phoebe Carlson:

I mean, it's also if women want to post about it, it's their body, it's their prerogative. That’s my opinion … Like, obviously people are going to disagree with everything I’m saying right now.

Kristen Capon:

I won't do it. But if you wanna do it.

Phoebe Carlson:

Honestly, I probably wouldn't either ….

Richelle Frabotta:

Okay, wait, but why not?

Kristen Capon:

It definitely is that stigma, quite honestly. Like, I mean, going back to like … okay, so, when I was in elementary school, like, it was like fifth grade … fourth grade, actually. Yeah. Fourth grade. I had like panty liners. Cuz, like, I was like, you know, started spotting very early. And I dropped them all over the floor. And I had an anxiety attack. I was like what is this? Like, there were boys, like, staring at me. And they were like, what are these blue things? And I’m like, let me have that back. So, there is just a fear. And I …. It stems from a young place. It really does.

Phoebe Carlson:

It does.

Kristen Capon:

It stems from, you know, you sneaking tampons up your sleeve.

Phoebe Carlson:

Or when we were even taught about our periods in elementary school, they like wanted us to keep it a secret, or at least the way it was kind of taught to me, when I was in school.

Kristen Capon:

 Yeah. Aunt Flow. You needed nicknames.

Phoebe Carlson

Yeah. They like wanted you to keep it to yourself. They like wanted it to be, like, a thing only, like, you knew about and weren't telling everyone about. That's kind of the way they taught it to you as. And not that I was like embarrassed about having my period, like growing up. ‘Cuz like, whatever, I knew it was normal. 

But I think it's just the act of like people publicly … like, you we're talking about, like, free bleed. There's, like … nobody wants to like have visible, like, well … like at least that I know, anyway. I can talk about the world. But nobody wants to have, like, visible bloodstains, like, on their clothes out in public. So I think that's kind of my same, looking at social media. Like, I don't want to have this blood stain on me in public. So why would I want to have it, like, in public online?

Kristen Capon:

Bleeding through white pants. Like, that is ….

Phoebe Carlson:

That is literally my biggest fear still today. If I’m even on …. Like, in general, on my period, I will not wear, like, a very light colored, or white pants. I won't do it. It makes me … even though I know in my head that I won't bleed through, I still just don't do. ‘Cuz makes me too scared.

Richelle Frabotta:

This is fascinating. You're feisty and badass and you're still … wow.

Phoebe Carlson:

Yeah. It's just what you grow up kind of being a accustomed to. 

Richelle Frabotta:

Nah, we're gonna change that.

Kristen Capon:

At this point, it's definitely gotten easier as we've gotten older, I feel like.

Phoebe Carlson:

Yeah.

Kristen Capon:

Because now, I’ll just carry a tampon and be like, hey, how are you doing?

Phoebe Carlson:

Oh, yeah, I don’t even care.

Kristen Capon:

This, right here, is for me.

Phoebe Carlson:

I think, it’s just more as you grow up. Because I think the awareness spreads more to like people who aren't having their period, they're like, oh, well, girls have their period, like whatever. I think in college it's not really as much of an issue. But I still even think in high school, when you're like younger in high school, I feel like people still think it's like, I should like hide my tampon in my sleeve, or whatever else.

Kristen Capon:

You know what’s an important point to take out of this?

Phoebe Carlson:

What?

Kristen Capon:

Now that I really just got this? So, something that I’m picking up, like, a mood here is that it's the … it's the amount of awareness. Because if you really focus on it, the amount of awareness of your period, that's where the fear stems from. Because the opposite gender, the other people, don't know about you.

Phoebe Carlson:

… don’t know about it when you’re first getting it. 

Kristen Capon:

… Don’t know about it. They don't know what it is. So it's weird. What is that red stain? They don't know it is. What's that contraption? You know?

Phoebe Carlson:

Yeah.

Kristen Capon:

It's just a powerful thought.

Phoebe Carlson:

It is.

Kristen Capon:

Because now you can really take what we just talked about, and stem it all the way back to the awareness, you know, to the period tax, or pink tax, and the period poverty. All of that, to this day, at least politically, is a problem. Because people aren't aware. They don't know what's going on. So if you, for example, were probably to have a male, who grew with sisters and understood the period process, he may or may not be more likely to pass a policy. Because he understands it. So …

Phoebe Carlson:

I definitely think that. I definitely think that would be true. Like, males growing up with a bunch of sisters and knowing about periods through their siblings, like …

Richelle Frabotta:

Well, what's also implied is that the house where these … this inter-sibling relationships are happening is open. And I don't know about you. But Thanksgiving Day, when I was in fourth grade and nine years old, and that's when I got my period. And I had a whole bunch of Italian people eating food out in the other room, and there was no way I was going to let them know.

Phoebe Carlson:

Right.

Richelle Frabotta:

And so we talk … there's a there's an air of … for those of us who have been in houses … and it wasn't a shameful thing in my house. It wasn't a religious thing in my house. It was just a “you don't deal with the thing.” It's an invisibility thing.

Phoebe Carlson:

I think that's how I grew up too, honestly. It was never like ….

Richelle Frabotta:

Yet, I bet … a lot of times, if there is a body development conversation that happens in middle schools, often -thinking about binary genders - they're segregated. So boys learn this. Girls learn that. And just as a point in case for sexuality education, I refuse to teach segregated classrooms. So 4-6th grade that I taught, when I was invited in as a guest speaker, I would never separate the kids. We all need to learn about body function. 

Phoebe Carlson:

Oh yeah. But I think that's what, like … I think this is what Kristen and I were getting at earlier with like the whole like awareness from like a young age thing. I think if it all started with not separating out the genders, when we were taught about each gender’s bodies in the first place, I feel like it would avoid so much embarrassment and stigma kind of balancing out on both sides.

Richelle Frabotta:

No, no. It’s about being human. This is about body function and physiology. And that's where I teach it from. I don't teach it from a values lens. I don't teach it from an economic lens. I mean, it's just … this is what humans experience. And … most humans. There are some that don't. But…

James Loy:

One of the things we haven’t talked about yet, one of the last things that we haven’t mentioned. There is basically two sides to the Periods Rock project. Where you have the research and the policy side, which we have talked a lot about. But then you also have the distribution plan, where you are partnering with local businesses, and schools, and organizations to not only raise awareness. But also to collect donations and then to actually distribute them. So how is the distribution plan going? How is that working?

Phoebe Carlson:

I’m trying to think of, off of the top of my head, all the specific places. There are tons of places we've thought about taking our products too. I had already mentioned local prisons, and middle schools. So, locally we're looking to do most of our distribution. But, I guess, to kind of get our name out there more and help whoever we can help, we're definitely looking to distribute elsewhere as well.

Richelle Frabotta:

And specifically we looked at Haven House and Hope House in Middletown. And they are both nonprofit agencies that, on their websites, have said specifically that they'd like to receive products. And then, like Phoebe said, we're looking at middle schools, and in particular in Middletown. And then also, I have some contacts in Dayton. So, I’ll contact that group, and ask them where they'd like some products to go.

I do want to say all the great work that students are doing, on all these levels, whether that is economic, or access, or age differential with periods, or recognizing that trans men may have periods, there's so many places to get involved.

But the bottom line to this is equity. And taking away some shaming. That …. it just really isn't helpful in our culture anymore to have shame around these body functions, such as menstruation. So that's definitely my big push.

James Loy:

Alright. Wonderful. Well, good luck with all of your efforts, and with all you are doing to raise awareness, and with all you are doing to collect and donate these products. And thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Richelle Frabotta:

Thanks James.

Kristen Capon & Phoebe Carlson:

Thank you!

James Loy:

And if you would like more information about the mission and the services of the Sexuality Education Study Center here at Miami, or if you would like to get in contact with Richelle Frabotta, you can go to Miamioh.edu/sesc.

And this is the Reframe podcast, and thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, there are many more episodes available for free, right now, on Apple Podcasts and on Google Play Music.