Skinner remains hopeful of shifting the narrative surrounding menstruation

Young girl hiding behind period calendar, image by Photoroyalty

With over half of American women in a 2023 poll stating that they’ve felt embarrassed about their period at some point, it is no surprise that there is a lack of discourse on menstrual cycle advocacy in governments across the country.

California State Senator, Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair, and menstrual product advocate, Nancy Skinner describes the narrative of shame that permeates the attitudes of both men and women alike regarding menstruation, stating, “In typical fashion, we as women are still hiding our periods, or some kind of shame, when it is a basic biological function. We should get out of the closet — there should be no shame, there should be no hiding.”

In recent years, however, California has begun to make long-awaited strides towards ending this discrimination, starting with the passage of the “Menstrual Equity Bill” in 2021 which brought menstrual products to California public colleges and universities, and followed by the December 2022 introduction of Senator Skinner’s SB 59, “Equity, Period.” The bill, which she sees as “the next steps” following the Menstrual Equity Bill, would ensure that every state-owned building and state-funded hospital would supply free menstrual products to the public within women’s, all-gender, and men’s restrooms.

Skinner sees greater access to menstrual products as both simple logic and an extension of previous legislative efforts like the permanent sales tax ban on menstrual products in 2021 and the 2023 ban on gender-based price discrimination, also known as the “pink tax” in California.

“We taxed menstrual products as if they weren’t a necessity, we treated them like they were a luxury good instead of a necessity. You go to a bathroom, and there’s soap, there’s toilet paper, but there’s not menstrual products, and that’s something that more than half the population at some point needs. And it’s about the same as, in a bathroom anyway, having soap and toilet paper,” she says.

“In typical fashion, we as women are still hiding our periods, or some kind of shame, when it is a basic biological function. We should get out of the closet — there should be no shame, there should be no hiding.”

But Skinner’s measure this session ran up against the state’s first budget deficit in years, and the bill has been tabled for discussion until January 2024. Skinner, however, remains optimistic it will eventually become law.

“Next year, we might be fine. We might not have any kind of deficit, and taking on a new cost like this could work. That’s really what the motivation was — being able to afford it.”

Aside from financial concerns, Skinner’s bill has been met with resistance by the California Family Council (CFC) organization, who came forward in protest against the bill’s mention of menstrual products within men’s restrooms.

Sophia Lorey, Outreach Coordinator at the CFC states, “CFC opposes Senator Skinner’s SB 59 because science proves only women menstruate, thus there is no need for menstrual products in a male restroom. By putting menstrual products in male restrooms Senator Skinner’s bill pushes a false ‘gender ideology’ that men can menstruate. SB 59 works to erase the biological truth of what a woman is.”

But Lorey acknowledges the group’s stance is about more than science.

“CFC fully understands and recognizes that hygiene products are needed and should be accessible to all women who need them,” she says. “This is why CFC asked that the bill be amended to remove stocking ‘at least one men’s restroom’ with menstrual products from the bill… At CFC, our values are based on the Bible, and we know it is both biblically and scientifically factual that there are only two sexes, and only women have menstrual cycles.”

Not surprisingly, groups such as The Period Project and The Alliance for Period Supplies see it differently.

Lacey Gero, Manager of State Policy at The Alliance for Period Supplies, applauds Skinner’s efforts, stating, “Senator Skinner is a strong advocate for menstrual equity” and lauding her |efforts to increase access to period products.

“Denying access to period products is denying access to opportunities. Without access to period supplies students miss out on opportunities to learn, employees miss out on opportunities to work, and the public misses out on opportunities to participate in daily life. We must continue to advocate and demand that elected officials enact legislation and public policies that improve the lives of our communities, our states, and our country,” Gero says.

For Gero and Skinner, the goal is more than just improving access to menstrual products. It is also changing the discourse around them in the first place.

“I think the fact that these products are now available in our schools without question, that both companies and public restrooms have caught on, and that young women are talking about it and not hiding it — I think all of these things have begun to really change our attitudes and our whole discourse around our periods in the space of politics,” Skinner says.

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