Those who watched the Summer Olympics may have heard of Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer whose animated facial expressions and personality made her an international fan-favorite. Yuanhui truly made headlines when she mentioned her period after finishing a relay race just shy of a winning time.
“It’s because I just got my period yesterday, so I’m still a bit weak and really tired,” Fu said to a commentator after her race. “But this isn’t an excuse for not swimming well.”
That simple statement broke a long-standing taboo among female athletes, and anyone else in the international spotlight, that mention of menstrual cycles should be hushed, at least when on a public platform.
Fu’s comment was met with over-whelming support online from women and men, many calling Fu brave and empathizing about how painful periods can be.
While Fu is one of few female athletes to talk about an issue that effects or will affect about half of the world’s population, many people and institutions are taking steps to not only get rid of this taboo, but to ensure that everyone has access to feminine hygiene products as well.
Brown University is one of the first universities to offer free tampons and pads in all of its public bathrooms after the school’s student government decided to provide funding for the products.
“Feminine hygiene products are not a luxury. They’re as essential as toilet paper, just ask anyone who has ever struggled to obtain or afford them,” The National Or-ganization for Women president Terry O’Neill said in a statement. “Students’ participation in school should not be hindered by insufficient access to this basic necessity. Universities around the country should follow suit.”
As a person who has experienced the inconvenient, and sometimes painful, menstrual cycle, I can say that O’Neill is correct, feminine hygiene products are as necessary as toilet paper.
These free products are not only available in the women’s bathrooms, but in men’s and gender inclusive bathrooms as well.
“We wanted to set a tone of trans-inclusivity and not forget that they’re an important part of the population,” Viet Nguyen, a member of Brown’s student government, told the Washington Post. “I’d be naïve to say there won’t be push back. I’ve had questions about why we’re implementing this in male bathrooms as well. It’s an initial confusion, but people generally understand when we explain it.”
Brown University students aren’t the only ones gaining access to free menstrual products. New York City has taken it a step further, providing free products in all of the city’s public schools. Hopefully the actions of New York City and Brown University will set an example for other schools and cities across the country.
Dawn Cripe, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Nebraska at Omaha said that the subject of tampon availability was a topic of discussion in her Gender and Communication class two years ago.
“Well, it [a tampon dispenser located in CPACs] was out of service that whole semester—and beyond,” Cripe said. “Students would check in the restroom and text or email me that it was still out of service.”
Cripe is concerned that not only do students not have access to free tampons, but may not have them available at all.
“No woman should have to worry about disrupting her academics— physically or mentally—for NOT having access to something so necessary while on campus,” Cripe said.