Busy Philipps: Something 1/2 the population experiences monthly shouldn’t be taboo

Actress Busy Philipps arrives at the Los Angeles Special Screening Of Annapurna Pictures' 'Booksmart' held at the Ace Hotel on May 13, 2019 in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency)
Busy Philipps’ show has been off the air for almost two weeks and I miss her already. She’s funny, she’s wacky, she’s entertaining and she’s always herself. This article is about periods though, and activists who are working for menstrual equality, especially for women who cannot afford supplies. Busy was interviewed for a brief documentary about this created by CBS. Celebrities help bring interest to causes and she knows this and was willing to talk about it. They also interviewed women who have been affected by lack of access to menstrual products, in school and in the military, and activists trying to distribute menstrual products and make them tax free nation-wide. (Tampons and pads are only tax free in 15 states.) This documentary reminded me of the Oscar-winning short documentary, Period. End of Sentence, except focused on US women and the ways that we are marginalized and punished for needing minor accommodations.

In fact, that stigma — and the secrecy that it spawns — have given rise to a painful reality known as period poverty, which quietly affects millions of American women every day. In essence, period poverty means not being able to afford to purchase feminine hygiene products, like tampons and pads. And while many of us probably take access to these sorts of products for granted, there are growing populations of women and girls who have to make impossible life choices every month, just to survive their cycles.

“If you have to pick and choose, do I buy food for my child or do I get my sanitary needs, that’s kind of hard and no one should have to experience that,” said Brooklyn native Nicole Johnson, who went into a homeless shelter in 2005 with her four children. “It’s demeaning. It makes you feel very sad. … It’s a heartbreaking situation.”

Johnson now lives in transitional housing, but she is one of the more than 16 million American women — 1 in 8, according to 2016 U.S. Census data — battling poverty every day.

“If you can’t even put a loaf of bread on the table, how do you expect a person to buy a box of tampons that may be $5 and change?” she explains. “Most people don’t stop and think about it. I guess they feel they’re able to get their own pads and tampons. It’s the littlest things that people don’t focus on. Yes, you need food, you need water. There’s plenty of soup kitchens. But the personal items, the sanitary napkins, the soap, the toothpaste, deodorant… it’s not that easy for people.”

To make matters worse, women cannot buy tampons or pads with public benefits like food stamps. They are not included in flexible or health spending account allowances. And they are not covered by health insurance or Medicaid.

So the only financial assistance women can really hope for is in the form of taxes. After all, every state has the ability to pick and choose products they’d like to make more affordable by exempting them from sales tax. All 50 states have given tax exemptions to prescription medications, even optional male enhancement ones like Rogaine. Louisiana did it for Mardi Gras beads. Idaho did it for chainsaws. Illinois even did it for BBQ sunflower seeds. Yet, to date, only 15 states and Washington, D.C. have officially exempted pads and tampons from sales tax…

“You know, people will say that we’re seeing how broken the systems are and it’s time to fix them,” said [activist Jennifer] Weiss-Wolf. “I don’t actually think of it that way. I think the systems are working exactly as they were intended to do, which was to keep women out of power. … And ignoring menstruation is just as much of a part of that as all of these other arguments and cases that we’re arguing now.”

Celebrities like Busy Philipps, who regularly advocates for women’s rights and the destigmatization of women’s health issues, have now taken up the cause, as well, by bluntly and nonchalantly discussing their periods on both social media and national TV.

“Something that happens to half the population once a month shouldn’t be a taboo subject,” Philipps told CBS News. “I mean, to be totally honest, and I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but like if men had their periods, it would be like f***ing celebrated. You know, it would be like a holiday. They would get the week off of work and probably the week before and then like the four days after their period ends, so that they could recover. It would just be a different experience. But men do not get periods. Women get periods.”

[From CBS News]

That’s outrageous that you can’t pay for menstrual products with flexible spending accounts and that in 35 states they’re not even considered a tax free medical product. I really liked how the author of Periods Gone Public, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, explained it by saying that the system works just as it was intended, implying to keep us down. We’re seeing that now even more with these ridiculous bans on abortion. I did get a lot out of the documentary, which is available on CBS’s site. There was a woman who was collecting and distributing pads and tampons who had two little boys who could quickly and simply describe periods and how they affect women. Meanwhile a woman described how demeaning it was to ask for minor accommodations in a military academy, where the male cadets would throw away the tampons that other women would leave to help each other out, calling them “gross.”

Here’s a link to an article with organizations that distribute pads to women and girls in need and here’s more on the period equality movement.

Ooh and yesterday was world menstrual hygiene day!

Actress Busy Philipps arrives at the Los Angeles Special Screening Of Annapurna Pictures' 'Booksmart' held at the Ace Hotel on May 13, 2019 in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency)

photos via Instagram and credit: Avalon.red

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23 Responses to “Busy Philipps: Something 1/2 the population experiences monthly shouldn’t be taboo”

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  1. Seraphina says:

    Women have fought hard to get our rights but we aren’t even close to where we should be. I recall going to my OBGYN and having to pay more for my co-pay because it was considered a “specialist” visit. My female parts maybe be “special” (haha) but they are part of my body. And an annual exam should not be considered such. I bet if it was a man getting his male parts examined, it would be labeled as such.
    Woman have been over looked always. And yes, men have wanted to keep us out of a lot of areas because it doesn’t suit them. They still do. They won’t even let us control what happens to our own body.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      An annual pelvic exam (“well woman visit”) is considered preventative care and should not be subject to co-pays. However, if you talk to your doctor about new issues you may be having, it is not considered a well woman visit and therefore, you might have co-pays.

      This law was put into place by the ACA (aka Obamacare).

  2. CROWHOOD says:

    I was Presenting a HUGE contract with an all male team of my superiors. Right before we walked in I knew I had to go to the bathroom. I sat there while they all waited for me and passed a giant blood clot. I nearly Passed out, I was Pouring sweat. I got Myself together and went out to meet them. Absolutely nailed that presentation. Afterward the VP said to me “even that second glass of wine didn’t stop you”. It took me a minute to realize he thought I was hungover. Nevermind I had 2 glasses of wine to their 3-5 beers each. And I didn’t correct him. Because it was better to have him think I could Work while hungover than have him realize I had Worked while shedding my uterine lining.

    And while that is an infuriating experience for me, I was Clean and safe and had access to menstrual pads and tampons.

  3. Adrianna says:

    These products are so necessary, yet are expensive and then taxed as well. No one should have to sacrifice other necessities to be able to buy them.

  4. KarenG says:

    A friend who is a social worker told me about a client in poverty who, after making sure all of her children’s needs were met, scrimped and saved for 10 months to afford a diva cup. She figured a reusable thing was the solution (smart!) but the fact that she had to prioritize that over “luxuries” like new shoes for herself or any number of other things is awful.

    • SK2 says:

      So smart!
      I absolutely love my silicon menstrual cup for so many reasons.
      I wish they could be subsidised or free, they are a great solution

  5. Char says:

    Like I read somewhere, “if only men were as discussed by rape as they are by a period”.

  6. elimaeby says:

    I remember being extremely poor right out of college and having to eat nothing but a half packet of ramen a day because my periods were so heavy that my tampon consumption ate up my entire food budget for a week or so. I can’t imagine what women who are struggling financially and trying to feed their children go through. It’s one thing to starve myself for a few days, but to imagine having to choose between my children’s nutritional needs and my basic hygiene? This should never happen in a first-world country.

  7. ds says:

    I say this out loud, I’m not ashamed it happened to me, but it did feel like the lowest point in my life. I’ve always worked but was a freelancer. And not so long ago, there was one particular month when I was collecting all the fees people were owning me (freelancers know that’s sometimes the worst part of that position – you have to ask to be paid and paid on time constantly) and ended up being totally broke. I knew it was a short time thing and I didn’t want to tell anyone anything or borrow… so I got my period and realized I couldn’t afford to buy the pads. It was the lowest I ever felt in my life. I didn’t cry about it, I actually laughed it off. But knowing there are so many women facing this every day…. it’s so horrible. I support all the actions.

  8. Starkiller says:

    I guess I’m in the minority, but I just…don’t see the need to openly discuss bodily functions. I mean…the entire population urinates and has bowel movements, which are also bodily functions, but we generally don’t feel the need to discuss those in public. A little discrétion is always appreciated.

    • Cay says:

      If you don’t think men talk about shitting and pissing, you’ve lived a very “discrete” life.

      • ME says:

        Men are vile and talk about literally every MALE body function. They are conditioned as young boys to be afraid of women during their periods.

    • Allie says:

      The problem with making those topics a taboo is that people will be ashamed to talk to their peers or even doctors when they have problems. Diseases are discovered late, which might even be fatal. You don’t have to talk about the density of your morning poo at breakfast but at some point you will be glad to be able to talk about it freely in case something might worry you.

    • Maples says:

      The thing is that there is less taboo or shame associated with peeing or pooping than with menstruation. Menstruation is considered by society to be beyond disgusting and gross, a flaw that women should be ashamed of and pretend like it doesn’t exist. Also the vagina is considered ‘dirty’ and therefore anything associated only with vaginas is ‘very dirty’. The people who believe and perpetuate this belief probably wouldn’t be born, however, without coming out a vagina and/or spending time in a uterus during gestation. When will women and everything associated with them stop being denigrated and reviled? When can natural, female biological processes be treated by society like any other natural, biological function? I can only hope in my lifetime.

    • Bella Bella says:

      Michael Douglas just got an Emmy for a “comedy” show “The Kominsky Method” where a main running storyline is about his pee and his prostate. I couldn’t believe it. There is no way there would be a comedy show about a woman and her period, let alone it being lauded with awards.

  9. Liz says:

    I was at an event recently for a local Food Bank. Menstrual products were a large part of the discussion. About how when tampons & pads appear at a food bank, they are among the first items requested and the first to run out. About how the companies that make them are happy to donate baby diapers, but requests for donations of menstrual products are met with deafening silence (the same companies make both products). About how women learn to improvise with toilet paper & paper towels. It’s infuriating and frustrating.

    And it happens in my own home. There was a delivery box sitting on our kitchen table. My husband asked “what’s that”? I told him it was tampons & pads for our 15 year old and me. Cue the red face and him backing out of the room. We’ve been married for almost 20 years and have a teenage daughter. He and his SISTER were raised by a single mother. You would think he’d be more, I don’t know, realistic about how uteruses work?

    • ME says:

      You think that’s bad? I remember as a young girl being told women shouldn’t go to Temple when on their period as they are “unclean” during that time. Ughh.

  10. Cay says:

    Did anyone else see the film “I, Daniel Blake”? That was the first time I realized how women give up sanitary necessities so their children can have food. When the mother walks into the food pantry and asks if they have any sanitary products, she is denied saying they run out of them very quickly. I had not thought about it before. Just thinking about that scene makes me tear up.

    I have to say that one of the best changes I see happening is how often I walk into a public restroom and there are free tampons and pads in there. Ikea was the first store I saw do that. I’ve never known a woman who has the means to stuff her purse with the freebies sitting on the counter and take the free products. We know to leave them for the person who can’t afford them or who is just without on a day of need. As I saw on Twitter recently, “Tampons and pads are expensive, but I’ve never had another woman refuse me one when I was in need.”

  11. adastraperaspera says:

    Add to this the fact that women make about 80% less money for the same work a man does. Patriarchy is set up as a system that treats women as second-class citizens–making sure they can never compete with men for status or resources.

  12. Jillybean says:

    If all women just straight up boycotted menstrual products and just let it bleed everywhere then finally something may be done. Leave blood stains all over public places, offices, restaurants everywhere. Let the continent rain with menstrual blood. Then maybe the clean up costs would trigger making these things more affordable for everyone

  13. Tiffany :) says:

    Jails regularly charge female inmates outrageous prices for these products. It is outrageous and unjust.

  14. Sara says:

    This is a terrible problem in the developing world and in rural areas where there is no access to menstrual products. Teenagers skip school because they cannot get sanitary products. Several organizations are trying to highlight this problem of young girls unable to attend school because they have no access to supplies and because the cultural and religious taboos about being “unclean” during a period are so strong. Help the groups trying to deal with this if you can.