By Margaret Treichler
This past November and early December, the Women and Gender Studies club did something pretty unconventional; we held a feminine hygiene product drive. I’d like to start by saying thank you so much to all who donated and supported our cause! Thanks to so many of you, we were able to collect nearly 600 tampons and pads, as well as enough money to purchase an additional 1,500 in bulk on Amazon! That is really incredible.
This is certainly a “Better Late than Never” article, since by now, many of you have probably forgotten about our campus-wide initiative. But for myself, and for all of the other women in charge of this effort, this was an experience we will never forget. In so many ways, this project turned out incredibly. More tampons, pads, and money were raised than any of us on the club E-Board could have ever anticipated. However, in that same breath, it is also important to point out all of the ridiculous and shocking backlash that we, as a group, received.
Without a doubt, one of the most incredible moments of the week was when a freshman boy walked up to me with two shopping bags filled to the brim with different brands of pads and tampons. Menstruation should not be an embarrassing topic, nor should it be something people feel uncomfortable talking about. Just knowing that this kid put himself out there in such a vulnerable way was truly incredible. Of course, all donations were so appreciated, but it was really heartwarming to see so many generous people willing to go out and spend their own money on full boxes of pads and tampons to donate. It warmed our hearts to see that so many people were touched by our campaign. I can’t count how many times I heard the statement, “Wow, I’ve never even thought about the fact that homeless women get their periods, too.” This meant so much to all of us because a huge purpose behind this project was to raise awareness of such a silent and taboo issue.
But now, I want to cut to the chase and explain what really inspired me to write this article: backlash. Ignorance. Insensitivity. Disrespect.
On our second day of library tabling, Peyton Richmond (co-president), Marissa Mykietyn (treasurer), and myself (secretary) watched two very clearly well-off, middle aged white men walk into the library. They wore fancy suits and carried gift bags, and as they walked passed us, I asked, very point-blank and respectfully, “Would you two men be interested in donating money to purchase tampons for women in need?” It was the script I had used for every single man that walked by our table. These two men avoided eye contact with us, instead looking only at each other, and laughed. They gave a quick wave behind their backs as they said “yeah, no thanks,” and walked away chuckling to themselves.
As if this wasn’t degrading and disrespectful enough, the next day it was relayed to Peyton and I that these two grown men had gone to a higher-up at the college to complain that we made them feel “put off” by Canisius. This higher-up person relayed the message down a chain of people, and eventually it was tossed into our laps. I cannot describe the way this made us feel. It was a mixture of confusion, utter disgust, anger, and nausea. The idea that these two middle-aged men had the nerve to treat us so poorly, and then to complain about us, to tattle-tale on us like two little boys getting picked on at the playground… how dare they? And quite frankly, the fact that this “higher-up,” whoever he or she may be, actually listened to this complaint, took it seriously, and then made sure it was passed onto us, two young women doing nothing other than trying to help women in need, was ludicrous. The whole situation was absolutely disgusting.
Moving on, I would like to tell another story about a young man who approached our table in the library. Of course, our interaction began with, “Would you be interested in donating money to buy tampons for women in need?” He said, “Sure,” and handed me a dollar. As I put his dollar in our donation bag, he reached into an almost-full box of tampons and pulled one out. He examined it, and stated, “You know, I’ve actually never seen one of these before,” (That’s the American educational system for you). My roommate, who was sitting with me at the time, and I both looked at each other and kind of rolled our eyes. This man then proceeded to open the tampon and take it out of its wrapper. We were in awe. And then, to add insult to injury, he held the tampon in front of his crotch and began making inappropriate gestures, asking, “So, what, you just stick it up there like this?” At this point, all I wanted to do was a) curse him out, and b) explain to him that Google is a thing that exists so people with so many questions aren’t forced to make total asses of themselves in public. By now, the tampon itself was completely separated from the applicator and it was 100-percent useless to homeless women. So he threw away all of the trash… into our bag of donations. Not to mention that he showed up at our table again, not 5 minutes later, to gather all the tampon pieces one last time because, as it turns out, his “friend doesn’t get how it works either.”
So, yes, there were a couple bad experiences when we held the tampon drive last semester. As men and women for others who value kindness and social justice, we should not acquiesce in accepting ignorance through our silence. We have a responsibility to call it out in order to show that this behavior is unacceptable. However, I don’t want these instances to outshine the outpour of compassion and generosity I mentioned before. The tampon drive was about raising awareness and helping others, and it was about love and support. To keep up the momentum, the Women and Gender Studies Club is teaming up with the Buffalo City Mission to hold a bra and undergarment drive called “Give the Girls a Lift.” We collected donations in the library this week, but we are still accepting items. (Contact email@example.com.) So look out for us, and let’s show the Canisius community that compassion and generosity is louder than ignorance!