Periods are still a taboo topic. Even after years of retraining myself to know that my body's needs aren't gross, I still feel the compulsive need to hide my tampon up my sleeve when I walk to the bathroom in public. ("Will this super fit in my pocket?" "If I bring my makeup bag to the bathroom, will it be too obvious?") There's still that (albeit smaller) part of me conditioned to automatically believe that what my body does naturally is an affront to men and I should hide my feminine products in shame. Gina Rodriguez's comments about a woman's period are exactly what I've been trying to teach myself for years, and what I hope all women can say unapologetically one day: Periods are normal; periods aren't gross; periods are a woman's superpower.
"I want to normalize the conversation around periods, so that we don’t have a culture that’s like, ‘she... got her period,'" Rodriguez tells me in an exclusive interview for Elite Daily. It's part of the reason why she decided to get involved with Always and Feeding America's efforts to increase accessibility to period products. The #EndPeriodPoverty campaign's goal is to help young girls nationwide get access to period products so they no longer have to miss school due to a lack of access to pads and tampons when they're on their periods. According to a press release provided to Elite Daily by the campaign, one in five girls in the United States has to miss school every month due to their period. That's a staggering number of girls whose educations are being thwarted because period products aren't accessible to them, for whatever reason.
We’re forgetting about these young girls that are going through transformative times in their life.
Rodriguez tells me that she was astonished by that statistic as well. "I was like, ‘one in five! One in five!’" she said. She continues,
During that time, [your period is] so uncomfortable, it’s so transformative, it’s so awkward, it’s so weird, it’s already like not the best space to be in ... But to imagine not having access to feminine products, it just blew my mind. It devastates me, quite literally devastates me.
Rodriguez has been an advocate for women's rights before Jane The Virgin put her in the spotlight. The show itself is one of the most feminist shows currently on television (it runs laps around the Bechdel test), so it comes as no surprise that her advocacy for women's rights runs deep in her personal life as well. She tells me that a lot of philanthropic partnerships come across her desk, so she tries to choose the ones that she can positively affect the most.
Rodriguez says companies as large as Always should continuously be doing philanthropic work. (She holds herself to the same standard.) "When you’re making so much damn money," she says, "you better be helping other people. To me, that’s the way the world has to work."
Always is going to donate 15 million pads to Feeding America for the 2018-19 school year. Feeding America will be tasked with distributing the pads to the food banks they have set up as school pantry programs in various schools nationwide. That's how Rodriguez, Always, and Feeding America are helping to ensure that young girls don't miss school because they don't have the basic feminine hygiene products to take care of their bodies.
Rodriguez tells me that while school pantry programs do a lot of good for countless families, they mostly focus on food, and period products aren't even an afterthought. There are "school pantry programs where they find out how many kids need lunch every day," she says, "or who’s eligible for lunch because of the income in the household, but they’re not finding out how many girls are going to need period products." She continues,
They’re looking at food, they’re looking at making sure these kids are nourished, but we’re forgetting about these young girls that are going through transformative times in their life.
I note to Rodriguez that there are some states in the U.S. that have passed and/or introduced legislation barring tampons from being taxed as luxury products, but the vast majority of states still tax them as such. According to NPR, nine states have passed legislation and seven others have introduced legislation as of March 2018. This doesn't shock Rodriguez. "It’s been for a very long time that they’ve been attacking women’s rights," she tells me. "Our government has not, does not, especially our current legislation, does not protect or uplift women in the slightest. Not at all."
It terrifies people. And by people, I mean men. Because we are powerful.
Rodriguez tells me the period luxury tax came as no surprise to her when she learned of the issue previously. "It did not surprise me when I found out, and it does not surprise me," she says. "What surprises me more is that I’m not surprised by the lack of support women get all across the world."
I feel like [women] were born into being domesticated to know and believe and be OK with the fact that our superpower, i.e. our period which makes us procreate, which means the only reason any of the men are here to begin with, is because of us. It terrifies people. And by people, I mean men. Because we are powerful.
Rodriguez tells me that one of the best ways people can help support these young girls with limited access to period products is to post a throwback photo with the hashtag #EndPeriodPoverty.
For every post under the #EndPeriodPoverty hashtag, Always will make a donation of period products to a school in need. Always will also make a donation for every Always product purchased. You can also simply donate money to the campaign as well.
There are ways for everyone to make a difference with this campaign. "If you're a male and you want to be an ally, you can post a picture," she says. "Or buy products for your momma for that month, or your sister. There are ways that everybody can help and that we can make the playing field a little more equal."
Rodriguez tells me her ultimate goal is to normalize the cultural narrative around periods. A woman's period, as she just laid plain, is the only reason anyone is alive to debate whether or not periods are "gross" in the first place. (They're not.) She wishes people's first instincts would be to ask things like, "Oh, does she need anything? Can I assist? Would you like to do something? Do you feel bad? Do you need some water?" rather than thinking she needs to handle her business in private.
She specifically wants to change the culture so young boys grow up knowing that when a girl gets her period, she doesn't need or deserve judgmental comments or grossed out stares. She just needs a damn tampon. "Having real awareness, knowledge, education about menstrual cycle" is the goal, so that "both young girls and young boys have a culture to it that’s not so [groans]. That’s more normalized." Because that's exactly what periods are: normal.