PHILADELPHIA — Actress Elizabeth Banks used the term “lady bits” from the podium, and the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America busted down taboos to speak openly about having had an abortion. But if you want to find a tampon inside the Wells Fargo Center, where the Democratic National Convention has been going on since Monday, you’re going to need to ask a Philadelphia firefighter for help.
Women’s “potty parity,” menstrual product availability, and bathroom-of-choice access for trans individuals have emerged as topics of legislative concern within the Democratic Party in recent years. That’s led Democrats to relabel some of the restrooms in the Wells Fargo Center “ALL GENDER” for the duration of the confab as a mark of their inclusiveness.
But for women of a certain age, the sports complex is not actually a super female-friendly setup. None of the giant bathrooms in the sports arena that I checked — neither female nor all gender — stocked feminine hygiene products. Neither did the lactation room, a curtained-off area near some pillars furnished with a ratty pleather couch and a microwave. As for the external porta potties and mobile bathroom trailers, some don’t even having working lights or water to flush with, let alone necessities for women with “blood coming out of [their] wherever,” as Donald Trump so memorably put it.
That leaves those inside the security cordon — a number that can reach into the tens of thousands each day — with limited options, should a need arise. A woman can reach out to a friend or colleague (the old-school, tried and true approach). She can walk half a mile to the closest CVS – 15 minutes each way, according to Google Maps, not counting the time it takes to exit and re-enter the Secret Service cordon — and hope she doesn’t get caught in one of the monsoon-like rainstorms the convention has been punctuated by. Or, as I discovered when I decided to look into it, she can go to a first-aid station inside the arena.
At one first-floor first-aid station, I was greeted by two male city of Philadelphia firefighters. Asked if they stocked tampons, the younger of the men led me into a backroom full of medical personnel, mainly male, in red T-shirts and pulled a tampon out of what looked like a military backpack. “The fire department has nothing to do with what’s put out for the public,” he told Yahoo News, asking that I withhold his name as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“We keep ’em here for people. I don’t think the bathrooms or anything have ’em,” added a female colleague who had joined our discussion. She also asked that I withhold her name.
A second first-aid station was staffed by people wearing CrowdRx Event Medical T-shirts. Asked for a tampon, the woman there pulled out the “Minor Medical Log” clipboard and asked for my name and age, so she could document the incident.
Many major companies these days stock feminine hygiene products in bathrooms as part of their routine provisions for female employees, and the “you go girl” industry of women’s empowerment conferences can be identified in part by the baskets of them that appear in bathrooms for the duration of the conferences.
Lest the politics of menstrual products seem trivial the week of Clinton’s historic nomination, it’s worth noting that President Obama this year signed on to an activist effort to normalize feminine hygiene products by lowering taxes on them. “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” Obama said in January about what activists have derided as the “tampon tax.” “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
Newly named Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted in June, “Women’s health is an economic issue: Every woman deserves access to affordable menstrual products.” Her comment came after New York state passed what the New York Times’ Nick Kristof called “the nation’s first legislative package to ensure access to menstrual products in public schools, shelters and corrections facilities.”
Maybe by the time Democrats hold their 2020 convention, they’ll have figured out how to integrate such products into their own setups too.