Imagine you are in a new type of bathroom — you are washing your hands, squirt a little foam soap into your palms and then use the paper towels to dry your hands. When you go to leave, you are asked to pay for the supplies you used. While $1.75 is not too drastic of an amount, it seems weird that you have to spend it on something as basic as soap and a few towel squares.
Approximately 47 percent of you reading this article might view this situation as strange, unfamiliar or even unfair. The painful truth, however, is that the other 53 percent put up with this cost once a month. Pads and tampons are rarely found in Allegheny’s bathrooms and if they are available, the vending machine is poorly stocked, jammed or they come with a cost.
This means that if a woman — student, visitor or faculty member — is caught unprepared, she has to take a chance and call a friend, walk to her dorm, CVS or Walmart, which can be a painful, challenging and overall embarrassing journey for a menstruating female.
Allegheny College is not only home to a female-majority student body, but also to feminist, sex awareness and transgender-support organizations on campus. Ironically though, as shown by the lack of hygiene products, having a period is still obviously taboo here. We need to change that.
Many may be aware of articles online emphasizing just how expensive menstruation is and feel cautious about a school purchasing feminine products in bulk. The cost is not cheap. Therefore, some people might oppose free feminine hygiene products in public bathrooms because they do not want to be financially responsible for every period a woman has, but they should not be mistaken.
Allegheny is a safe-sex-positive school and home to the Reproductive Health Coalition and an assault awareness curriculum for incoming freshmen. The Winslow Health Center offers different forms of birth control and even emergency contraception to all students. The health center recently announced their distribution of free condoms — an excellent way to protect students’ health. While it is kind of Allegheny to save students the cost of buying condoms themselves, how much are they compared to feminine products?
Walmart’s Meadville location charges $2.17 for a 3-pack of name brand condoms, no tax included. This means that each condom costs approximately 72 cents. Meanwhile, a box of 54 store-brand tampons clocks in at $5.27, making the unit price a little over 9 cents each, and theoretically less expensive than a single condom.
The difference in price is small, but if Allegheny can distribute condoms free of charge, free menstrual products should not be too significant of an investment. Not to mention, women can abstain from or control when they participate in sexual activity. It is completely voluntary. It is much harder for a student to control their menstrual cycle — there is not really an “opt-out” option. If a school can afford to grant students free safe sex, why cannot they accommodate for a natural bodily function?
Free stocked pads and tampons in bathrooms are not supposed to accommodate for roughly 40 years, but it will definitely help a woman get through the next three hours of her day. Whether it is because she cannot afford the price of the products in a dispenser, the machine is not stocked or the machine is not working altogether, a lack of access to basic life necessities could not only infect a woman, but also prevent her from getting her education on any given day.
The attitude surrounding menstruation somehow is not improving on campus. Journey into the women’s bathrooms in the Henderson Campus Center. It is important to note that while there are no pad or tampon dispensers present, a baby-changing station is. Essentially, if a woman has a child to care for, Allegheny will support her, but if she is bleeding, she is on her own.
This presents quite the question — if a school provides sex education, promotion of safe sex, free condoms, STD testing, access to different methods of birth control and even support for pregnant students under Title IX, why would they not aid a woman when she practices safe sex and then gets her period?
Having free and accessible menstrual products in public bathrooms would definitely benefit women, but we should not stop there. It is in a school’s best interest to support all students — male, female, binary or gender-fluid. Therefore, free products should be distributed not only in every women’s room, but men’s and all-gender restrooms as well. A single tampon can voice an incredible amount of support for a menstruating male or other-gender individual struggling to simply be accepted and loved for who they are.
The absence of feminine products in Allegheny’s bathrooms is a complete neglect of the health of at least 53 percent of students. Not only are these products basic life necessities, but they are affordable enough to be distributed free of charge across campus. Society as a whole still has much progress to make regarding the treatment of female, transgender and gender-fluid individuals, but the universal accessibility of a simple piece of cotton is a major step towards equality.