As Women's History Month draws to an end, one of the most important issues to women, and one that has seen a good boost in attention, should remain in media focus long after the closing of March: menstrual rights.
It's a topic most men do not even take into account, and many women remain embarrassed by, yet still something that remains under-covered and unfairly treated by society.
Most states still tax feminine products, while few public outlets provide them at no charge in restrooms that gladly stock toilet paper, paper towels and hand soap. Why not menstrual products for women whose monthly periods are as common and natural as washing ones hands?
The stigma remains in many cases because it involves something specific to women, who remain second class citizens even today, and sex, which for some reason continues to draw confusion, embarrassment and secrecy.
Our culture, especially the media culture, promotes sex in every form -- from pornography on the web to nearly-nude pictures in print. Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue has long been its best selling edition each year -- and its not because of the hockey scores.
But while we live and breath sex in the media and daily life, discussing it -- especially the somewhat sensitive nature of menstruation -- still makes some people cringe.
We have seen great strides in the news and media for gender rights. Gay and lesbian citizens have seen huge gains in acceptance, in part due to the media and public demands, as well as the Supreme Court. And recent transgender and gender-neutral rights campaigns have sparked greater acceptance.
But when it comes to monthly periods, people wince and fail to look at a true equity issue for women, and for men who still may not understand all of the ramifications.
The transgender community has their own menstrual issues as well with non-binary and gender-neutral citizens often unsure how to handle the need for such products, or places to use them.
I applaud two recent media projects that have raised the issue to a level of debate and discussion not seen before. First, the 2017 book, Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who happens to live in the same New Jersey town as me and has been a great advocate for women's rights.
I interviewed her when the book came out. She writes about how women are unfairly treated in areas ranging from women's prisons to schools to homeless shelters.
More recently, the Academy Awards honored the short documentary, Period. End of Sentence, with its Best Short Subject Documentary Oscar. That great film by Rayka Zehtabchi looked at how menstruation is handled in areas of India and other countries where women are not provided adequate products and men barely even understand the monthly event.
See a clip below:
But the media needs to do more. A quick search of The New York Times for 2018 found 94 mentions of menstruation, but 243 mentions of Kardashian. And the related issues are still a battle for many women.
A March 9 CNN Business story stated that even with more awareness, most working women are not provided menstrual products at their workplace:
"It's surprisingly rare for workplaces to provide menstrual products for
employees, and there's no standard as to how offices should approach the
issue. Some have vending machines mounted on the bathroom wall, others
provide baskets with multiple options, and still others opt out
entirely, providing nothing at all. In a survey from Free the Tampons, less than half of women who were surprised by their period said they had access to a vending machine in a public bathroom"
And earlier this month, Newsweek reported on a state legislator in Maine who voted against a bill ensuring free feminine products for female prisoners.
The bill passed the first round of approvals, but the fact one lawmaker found it unnecessary indicates more information is needed. The legislator, Richard Pickett, said, "Quite frankly, and I don’t mean this in any disrespect, the jail system
and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club."
This feeds into the assumption that menstruation and periods are some kind of choice or unique occurrence when they are a natural part of life for more than half of the population, but still treated as a stigma or something to be shamed.
If news outlets want to truly honor Women's History Month, now and beyond, they should make a point of looking into all of these areas - from the unfair tax on tampons to the lack of products for women in public restrooms -- and not only report on them, but editorialize and demand change.
As the husband of one woman and the father of another, I remain astonished at the lack of such availability. It still amazes me that my daughter's high school -- and I am sure many others -- does not have feminine products in the women's restrooms -- even a machine from which to buy them. Some claim girls would steal and hoard them. Do we fear that with paper towels, toilet paper and soap? No.
And that is just one example. With an issue that affects so many news consumers, you would think the press would want to serve that need and push for such equality.
Perhaps in some cases they should even assign a reporter to the "menstrual beat," either part time or full time.
In my many years of covering news issues I have come across newspaper beats ranging from a beer reporter to a journalist assigned specifically to Michael Jackson.
The Salt Lake Tribune for many years has had a polygamy reporter.
It's hard to argue that more people are affected by polygamy or beer than menstruation when so many equity issues related to this monthly event still exist.
There are dozens of menstrual blogs out there -- from period.org/blog to thepelvicexpert.com -- with lots of a great information. But few of them have the journalistic expertise and wide-ranging reach of a mainstream news outlet.
I would think news outlets would want to tackle a subject that has a potential audience of more than 100 million affected people.
So, my fellow news people, go to it.