Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

Periods Gone Public

Information

Goodreads: Periods Gone Public
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: October 10, 2017

Official Summary

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.

Star Divider

Review

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.

2 star review Briana

26 thoughts on “Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf

  1. Holly says:

    Oooh this book sounds so interesting!! I’m someone who’s very frank when it comes to talking about periods, so it frustrates me to no end when people still consider it a taboo topic. I understand if people don’t want to go into detail about their own menstruation, but the mere fact that women experience this should not be considered a gross or inappropriate subject. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes! I get comparisons to poop and when people note “Well, that’s a natural process, and I don’t want to hear about other people’s poop or talk about it over dinner,” but I think keeping it taboo does lead to larger issues like women not knowing when something isn’t normal and they should see a doctor, women thinking they need to be shamed and (in some countries) stay home from school, etc. Walking around holding a tampon shouldn’t be any weirder than someone walking around with a roll of toilet paper as they go to replace the old one in the restroom.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Elspeth says:

    My first reaction to this book’s title -before reading the review- was *eyeroll*.

    However, the plight of women In prison or financial hardship situation made me realize how much I -as in many other areas- view my good fortune and ease of access to what I need as a normal thing.

    Interesting review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Honestly, I picked it up from the library because I saw the author calls herself a “menstrual activist,” and my first reaction was kind of an eye roll and “what the heck does that mean?” I still did some eye rolling throughout the book because of the tone and because I didn’t necessarily agree with every point she raised, but, yeah, I actually did learn some valuable things! I was definitely horrified that prisons purposely withhold pads/tampons from inmates to use them as leverage!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I know I really should place more value in what the author is doing, but I cannot honestly see this as something I could read. I am sure the facts are very important and even the tax has a larger impact in poverty stricken communities. But I have a feeling I would probably come away from this the same as you have. It might be something to consider in smaller doses and not in one large book?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      The author did mention that she and some other people had published essays and online articles about some of these things, and this was actually one of those books where it seemed like reading the articles would have been a better use of my time. The author does raise points I haven’t really thought about, such as the enormous environmental impact of women using tons of disposable pads and tampons that go straight to landfills, but I think I could have gotten the point from an article better.

      Like

  4. Grab the Lapels says:

    I can’t speak from experience, but I would think that a truly impoverished person may actually struggle to come up with that extra dollar or so because feminine products are taxed. When you have no money, all money matters. On the other hand, I doubt that such low-income families are actually the audience for this book.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I get that there are people who are really watching every cent, but I calculated that even if were buying slightly pricier products and paying 10% sales tax on them (which is much higher than most states charge), I’d still be paying like 80 cents a month in tax. If someone is buying cheaper generic products and has a 6% tax or even the 1.5% tax she mentioned…the tax just isn’t going to be a factor for the vast majority of people. So while some people might really need to save that 40 cents each month (or, of course, slightly more if they’re a family buying for more than one woman), I think focusing on the tax can be distracting from talking about changes that would have a larger meaningful impact for a larger percentage of people, if that makes sense. (Which is not to say you can’t focus on the tax AND other solutions, but it seems possible to get held up on the tax and ignore other avenues.)

      Like

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          Yeah, the tampon tax thing got a lot of media coverage, but I think some of the other ideas mentioned in the book (which I hadn’t really heard about before) are probably more suited to actually solving the problem. Like providing free period products in public school bathrooms, making sure people can buy period products with government-assistance funds, using funds to ensure homeless shelters are stocked with these products in addition to food, etc.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I like conceptually where this is going. I have also never heard the term “menstrual activist”. I also have heard lots about lack of menstruation supplies internationally but not in the US. It makes me so sad to hear guards are legally allowed to withhold tampons! Ugh.

    I’m glad you read and reviewed this book for me, Briana. Otherwise, this is certainly a book I should have picked up. 😉 That said, I’d love to learn more about this topic. Perhaps we can find a better book somewhere?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, the lack of access in the US was definitely knew for me, as I had the general idea this was a third world issue or something. It was very eye-opening! But the book did say some cities/states were taking steps to start dealing with the issues in prisons.

      The author did say she and some others had published online articles about some of the topics, and I honestly think I would have liked reading separate news articles better than the book, since it was covering a lot of different things.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      The fixation on the tampon tax seems odd to me. If it’s less than $1 per month, the tampon tax isn’t what’s causing the lack of access to products. It’s the actual cost. A box of tampons might cost $9, but I’m supposed to get riled up over what might amount to 60 cents of taxes per month (at most)? I think we’d be doing more good by talking about actual accessibility issues rather than the tampon tax.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

        Yeah, this is why I think people are protesting it mostly as a principle thing of “It’s a tax only women pay.” Honestly, before this book, I’m not really sure I even heard people claim that eliminating the tax would have any tangible results in terms of actually helping women afford the products; that just doesn’t seem to be the focus of the campaign, based on how small the tax is and how it is financially irrelevant for most people.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Krysta says:

          I think minor issues tend to be easier to understand so people latch onto them. It’s harder to mobilize a movement behind how to make tampons actually accessible to people because then people would have to argue over things like whether we raise taxes to do this and what kinds of taxes, or if we should make non-profits take care of it or whatever. Or we could just say, “The tampon tax is unfair! Down with the tampon tax!” and avoid ugly discussions about money.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. spicejac says:

    Thanks for the review – from my own personal perspective I have always wondered why tampons and pads – which are essential health and personal care items are taxed. We have the case in Australia where Viagra isn’t taxed but tampons and pads are???? (Mind you these are the pads and tampons that are used to soak up blood, the ones used for incontinence issues are exempt from tax). It is an equity issue as well as a tax issue.

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      To be honest, I never really thought about taxes related to period products until it became a thing in the media. But, then, taxes in the US can be kind of weird to figure out, and the book is clear that even people advocating about this aren’t clear on the facts. For instance, people were protesting that they’re taxed as luxury goods, but they’re not taxed as luxury goods actually so… I believe the author noted they are frequently classified with “cosmetics and hygiene products” but not “medical products,” which affects how they’re taxed. (And to be fair, I can see how someone would say this a pad is a hygiene product and not a medical one, since having a period isn’t a disease, you know?) And then the tax rate varies by state, and some states actually don’t have a tax on them at all (which I think people are also unaware of.) So, much confusion here. Reading about it was very interesting though.

      Like

      • spicejac says:

        Tax rates on various products are an interesting rabbit warren to leap down into. From my perspective in Australia, I just want parity in the taxation of these products. Why are Viagra pads used for urine exempt and pads intended for blood taxed? We’re luckier here to have far less confusion around who pays how much tax on which products.

        Like

        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          Yeah, people are always like, “Why don’t US stores include tax in the listed prices???” and it’s because the taxes vary so much. I think we have a similar issue with how Viagra products would be taxed vs. menstrual pads, though. Part of it might be that pads were put in one category and then new products were put in a different category years later, and no one thought to change the menstrual products category??

          Like

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