Goodreads: Periods Gone Public
Published: October 10, 2017
The first book to explore menstruation in the current cultural and political landscape and to investigate the new wave of period activism taking the world by storm.
After centuries of being shrouded in taboo and superstition, periods have gone mainstream. Seemingly overnight, a new, high-profile movement has emerged—one dedicated to bold activism, creative product innovation, and smart policy advocacy—to address the centrality of menstruation in relation to core issues of gender equality and equity.
In Periods Gone Public, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf—the woman Bustle dubbed one of the nation’s “badass menstrual activists”—explores why periods have become a prominent political cause. From eliminating the tampon tax, to enacting new laws ensuring access to affordable, safe products, menstruation is no longer something to whisper about. Weiss-Wolf shares her firsthand account in the fight for “period equity” and introduces readers to the leaders, pioneers, and everyday people who are making change happen. From societal attitudes of periods throughout history—in the United States and around the world—to grassroots activism and product innovation, Weiss-Wolf challenges readers to face stigma head-on and elevate an agenda that recognizes both the power—and the absolute normalcy—of menstruation.
I picked up this book from the library because the author describes herself as a “menstrual activist,” and I had no idea what she meant by that and wanted to find out. Though the book does talk about various charities and what Weiss-Wolf calls “menstrual equity,” I think it’s best viewed as an overview of what the author calls “The Year of the Period,” when all things period-related seemed to be making national news. (Note that the book opens with a trip to India and discussion of other countries, but it’s largely US-focused.) She covers everything from lack of access to menstrual products to lack of education about reproductive health to the “tampon tax” and new period product innovations.
Personally, I thought the chapters about lack of access to menstrual products were the most interesting. I had been aware of this issue in other countries, which Weiss-Wolf addresses, but I hadn’t thought much about the issue in the US. She covers in-depth how lower-income students might miss school because of lack of proper products and then addresses the particular plight of the homeless and women who are incarcerated. This last category was the most eye-opening to me, as it never occurred to me that prisons would have inadequate supplies or that, even if they did have enough pads/tampons, that guards would purposely withhold them from inmates who needed them in order to exert control over them. Weiss-Wolf addresses the variety of actions we can take to address these problems, ranging from donating to lobbying for laws. (For instance, donating more pads to prisons is meaningless if guards are still legally allowed to deny them to inmates.)
I was less interested in the “tampon tax” which seems to be a pet cause of the author’s, so it takes her halfway through the book, after passionately advocating for this, to admit that eliminating a tax on menstrual products would have basically no effect on menstruating people in terms of saving them money or making the products more affordable:
“As indicated earlier, the road ahead requires far more than pushing for sales tax reform, which really only scratches the surface. In terms of practical relief for those who are struggling and truly unable to access or afford the expense of menstrual products, a tax savings of pennies on the dollar likely isn’t going to make enough of a dent” (147-148).
(Seriously, she notes that in some places the tax is 1.5%. Even if the tax were higher, say 10%, most people are going to spend less than $1/month on tax on these products, by my calculations. This isn’t a meaningful per person savings. You can argue the products should be tax-free as a matter of principle, but not as a way to impact individuals’ finances. On the other hand, the lost tax revenue to the government would be significant, and figuring out how to compensate for that raises other questions.)
Weiss-Wolf also takes a detour to talk about other women’s issues, such as the legality of abortions, but these also read to me as passion projects of the author, and she didn’t fully convince me that whether abortions are legal or not has a real bearing on whether people have access to affordable menstrual products.
Basically, some parts of this book were enlightening, and some seemed more like things the author just wanted to talk about that weren’t closely related to the main topic of the book. I think it could be a good read for those interested in this topic, though, particularly if you pick and choose the chapters you read.