The Menstrual Dignity Act—an Oregon law that will place menstrual products in every restroom in all K–12 schools statewide starting this fall, is facing sudden backlash from national conservative media outlets, from the caustic Libs of TikTok to Fox News and the New York Post.
Four days ago, the TikTok account, which has become a tip sheet for right-wing media, posted a wordless 20-second clip taken inside of a men's restroom, including lingering shots of a urinal and a slow pan to a tampon dispenser hanging on the wall.
Within a day or two, the topic was trending on Fox, which invited long-shot Republican gubernatorial candidate Bridget Barton to spout off on the matter.
But advocates who fought for the bill’s passage in Oregon say that while the topic is being cast as “an attempt to push the LGBTQ+ agenda,” as suggested by the Rupert Murdoch–owned Post, making period products available to all is a fundamental question of basic equity.
One in four teens in the United States have missed class due to lack of access to period products, according to the Portland-based organization Period. In response, the state Legislature passed the Menstrual Dignity Act, which Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed into law in July 2021. The bill makes Oregon public schools among the first in the nation to guarantee universal access to tampons and pads for all students.
The goal of the act, according to guidance issued by the Oregon Department of Education, is to help those who get their period more actively and comfortably participate in school by “alleviating economic strain and experiences of shame that are often barriers for menstruating students accessing their education.”
The products are being placed in all bathrooms, so that “all students, in all grades, including those who are transgender, intersex, nonbinary, can access their education without barriers,” according to Marc Siegel, the agency’s communications director. To help schools gear up for the start of the requirement, state education officials, along with organizations like Period, recently released a “Menstrual Dignity for Students Toolkit”—a document outlining the requirements of the bill with student testimonies, ways to store products (it can be as simple as a countertop basket), educational resources including a link to a “how to use a tampon for beginners” video, and more.
“Girls are made to feel that [menstruation] isn’t something we should be talking about—it’s like a secret that half the population experiences all the time. And I think, whether it’s intentional or not, that there’s something in the right-wing backlash which wants to make [menstruation] something that we shouldn’t be talking about in public, we shouldn’t be looking at this stuff if we don’t have to use it,” says Gordon Lafer, a professor of political science at the University of Oregon and member of the Eugene School Board. “There’s something weird about it that I think is really negative. I have no doubt that if guys menstruated, we would have had this policy 20 or 30 years ago.”
In 2019, Lafer championed a policy similar to the Menstrual Dignity Act in Lane County’s 4J School District, with help from four members of Period’s Eugene branch—Posey Chiddix, Violet Neal, Kira Elliott, and Nabikshya Rayamajhi.
For months, the teenagers showed up at Eugene school district board meetings, recalling instances in which classmates were late or skipped class due to their period, and times when they'd had to loan tampons and pads to classmates who couldn’t afford them. The policy—which dictated that free period products be made available in public school restrooms in Eugene—passed unanimously in November 2019, making Eugene the first district in Oregon to implement a policy surrounding menstrual inequity. The policy was implemented successfully and without much, if any, backlash.
“You wouldn't have a bathroom without toilet paper, so, we shouldn't have bathrooms without menstrual products,” says Lafer.
Barton, one of 19 Republican gubernatorial candidates in the state, took the opposite tack, telling Fox this week that the policy represented one of the “radical leftist woke policies ... destroying Oregon from our streets to our businesses to our schools.”
Damaris Pereda, national programs director for Period, reinforces that the bill "doesn't impose people to use the products' it just increases access so that people who need them can use them." However, Pereda does acknowledge that it’s probably going to take some time for schools to adjust to this new policy. At first, there could be potential for irresponsible tampon hoarding situations, similar to people hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, she says. But after a while, it will all die down and, hopefully, become a lot more normal to see period products in all restrooms across the gender spectrum.
“There’s always a wave of change. The more we talk about the fact that people menstruate, it might become less of a novelty and then it will become part of our society. Just recognizing that some people menstruate, some people don't,” says Pereda. “And if you need the products, and they're available at your school, go ahead and take it so you can continue learning. And if you don’t need it, then you can ignore it. And that's OK.”