Author speaks on menstrual equity at GVSU

Annie Giffels

For anyone who menstruates, periods can be tiresome and costly. But for those who are homeless, impoverished or incarcerated, having a period can severely impede one’s ability to participate fully in society. 

On Friday, March 23, Grand Valley State University welcomed author Jennifer Weiss-Wolf at the Holton-Hooker Learning and Living Center. Her topic of conversation was menstrual equity, and to a large crowd of students and staff, Weiss-Wolf talked about her experience leading this new movement and the lessons she learned while writing her book “Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity.”

The event was part of the Community Service Learning Center’s Democracy 101 series.

Weiss-Wolf talked in depth about how she found this particular issue and what got her inspired to make change. It all began with an ad on Facebook from her community food drive. 

“A flyer came onto my feed; it was for a collection drive of tampons and pads for our community food drive,” she said. “I saw this flyer, and it completely stopped me in my tracks.” 

After months of research, Weiss-Wolf truly began her journey for menstrual equity with an essay that was published by The New York Times in 2017. 

“This became the catalyst for framing a discussion about this topic,” Weiss-Wolf said. She was offered the opportunity to write a book that tackled the issue later that year. 

Soon after, with the help of Weiss-Wolf and those involved in her movement, three bills were introduced into legislation. These bills called for free feminine hygiene products in public schools, homeless shelters and correctional facilities. It was not long before the movement, dubbed “menstrual equity,” really took off, and Weiss-Wolf was at the very center of it. 

Much of the conversation also centers on feminine hygiene products and the supposed injustice that relates to them. In the U.S., tampons and pads are taxed. To Weiss-Wolf, and the many other people who have joined her movement, this is unacceptable. Given that so much of the U.S. population menstruates, the movement emphasizes that these products are a medical necessity and that taxes should not apply to them.

Weiss-Wolf spent months researching this topic, too, finding multiple examples of items that happen to be exempt from taxes. She could not believe that feminine hygiene products still had not received this same privilege. 

“I found that in Texas, cowboy boots are exempt from taxes,” Weiss-Wolf said. “So are Pop-Tarts.”

At the very end of the discussion, those who brought factory-sealed feminine hygiene products were put into a raffle to win Weiss-Wolf’s novel for free. They also had the opportunity to have her sign it. 

The last half hour of the LIB 100- and 200-approved event was left open for questions and comments. When the floor was opened, attendees did not hesitate to dig even deeper into this topic. 

“How does this movement include the transgender community?” one attendee asked. 

“This movement is very young and relatively small, but from the get-go there have been voices of the trans community to represent those who identify as transgender,” Weiss-Wolf responded. 

Another attendee asked Weiss-Wolf how she addresses those who are against the movement. To this, Weiss-Wolf encouraged those who oppose it to look at the bigger picture. 

“For people who think that this movement doesn’t matter to them, or that it isn’t necessary, it is,” she said. “We are all the beneficiaries of an equitable society.”