Periods, Poverty & Pollution

Thanks to our Global Advocacy Committee & the Sustainability Taskforce here at Wartburg Seminary, I had the opportunity to watch a great documentary last night that I want to share. It’s short, less than 30 minutes, and it’s called “The Bloody Truth about Period Poverty in America” [watch it for free here: https://youtu.be/gPWriykB0xY]

Mostly, I just want to share this eye-opening documentary with you, and encourage you to think about creating free access to tampons and pads in whatever communities you are a part of: congregations, academic institutions, businesses, whatever. The reality is, that sanitary products are not readily available; and as all of us who have been caught without a tampon or pad know (isn’t that all of us), those outdated machines that take a quarter–and who carries a quarter anymore, anyway–either don’t work half of the time, or are empty.  And for those for whom the issue is not convenience but cost, the situation is even worse: no one should have to choose between feminine hygiene and food for their family, but sometimes, for women in poverty, it comes down to just that.

So, here are a couple thoughts. The first thing in the documentary that I learned is that different states can choose different items to be tax-free–either all the time or during special tax-free weekends. Cowboy boots in Texas fall into this category, and so do Mardi Gras beads in Louisiana.  So, any state could choose to make sanitary products tax-exempt, but they typically don’t.

Tangentially, this reminded me of an article I just read in the New York Times about diapers [find that article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/parenting/diaper-bank-coronavirus.html?searchResultPosition=1], and families having to make the difficult choice between food and diapers, which also are very expensive, and also aren’t covered by many programs meant to help low income families.  This is another situation where single mothers in particular bear the greatest financial burden.

The second thing from the documentary that I want to highlight is a statement that one of the narrators made, about how expensive it is to be poor. That really struck me: low income loans; credit cards that can be used to buy products online that might be cheaper than in stores (to say nothing of an address to receive those products); a vehicle to drive to discount stores; the ability to buy necessities in bulk; and a place to have a check cashed for free–all of these things contribute to keeping people in poverty, things that many of us take for granted and do every day, without thinking about how lucky we are to have such economic privilege.

The last thing that this video got me thinking about centers around issues of purity and pollution. The reality is, many women grow up with a sense of shame around their periods, because the perception is that this is something dirty, or embarrassing, or even polluting.  This contributes to a larger sense of women being embarrassed about their bodies, and not being able to have conversations about their period (and other medical/sexual/physiological issues), not only about different sanitary products available, but also about other medications or treatment that might help with the symptoms that often come with a monthly period. Religions in general–and Christianity in particular–need to do some serious self-examination regarding how their doctrines of purity and their teachings about women have contributed to this culture of shame.

As my final tangent, this reminded me of a section in the book Caste, which our faculty colleagues are reading together this spring. The author, Isabel Wilkerson, has a chapter on “Purity vs. Pollution,” and we all know how laws governing percentages of “negro blood” have been used as a means of ostracizing and excluding people, and separating out the “pure” from the “polluted.”  The reality is that blood is life-giving, but too often it has been used in ways that can only be described as death-dealing, stigmatizing and marginalizing women and also people of certain “casts” who are deemed undesirable.

I could say more about all of this, but mostly I’m just grateful that I had the opportunity to watch this documentary and reflect on these issues. It’s definitely worth a look, so I hope you take the opportunity to watch it, too.

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