Is there possibly a cruder phrase than ‘she’s on the rag?’ I don’t think so. We hear it now as a nasty, sexist reference but it wasn’t all that long ago that this was a woman’s monthly reality.
My mother told me that when she was a teenager growing up in a small town during the Depression, she and her sister actually used rags that were washed and bleached and hung out on the clothesline to dry, each rag hand-fed through a wringer washer. Nothing came easy then. If you were going to be on the rag, you better learn to wash them. Harsh business.
Being on the rag is not a situation for me anymore. One of the many benefits of getting older is being able to wear white pants anytime, not having to rummage through the drawer for a Tampax like I was looking for the last remaining cigarette on earth, the one that would save me from nicotine withdrawal and wanting to kill all my children and ram my car up against a brick wall. There is also no dead reckoning with a roll of toilet paper, the only protection standing between me and a roomful of men gathered around the tiny fire of an endless meeting, none of whom likely to have a little tubular savior in their jackets, their pockets already crammed with silk pocket squares.
Aging is liberating in ways you might not suspect. There is a reduction in certain indignities. I’ve heard that the indignities resume at some point but I think I have a few years’ breather. The rags may resurface as strangers wipe the oatmeal off my chin.
In the meantime, I’m into this notion about how lack of rags or more appropriately put, feminine hygiene products, is one of the crummiest indignities visited on women who are homeless.
Picture this. No, picture yourself. You’re homeless. You’re walking around downtown because that’s what you do when you’re homeless, you keep moving around. Every hour or so you stop in another public bathroom and stuff more toilet paper in your pants, you try to get a lady to give you money for the tampon machine but she looks at you and sniffs her way out the door. You keep walking and now you feel it, the wetness and you know the toilet paper has failed. But you’ve got to get to the meal program for dinner or you’ll have nothing to eat. And so you go and you hope no one will notice but they do. They all do.
Because it’s rank. You’re rank.
It’s just one more piece of crap that gets handed to you if you’re a homeless woman.
So last year it occurred to me after I visited a homeless shelter for women where the person at the front desk told me that one of the hardest things she had to do was tell a homeless woman stopping in for help that she had no tampons to give her, that it made sense to run a donation drive for feminine hygiene products. It was simple. I asked my good artist friend to design a graphic and I posted on Facebook and, damn, if I didn’t get a ton of sanitary napkins and tampons, big garbage bags full of every type you could imagine, my trunk would overflow with ways to keep women from having only toilet paper to put in their damn pants. Because you know, there’s got to be a floor to the essential indignity of being homeless.
Women deserve this one small thing whether they are homeless or living at the Ritz.
So I’m starting up my ‘feminine hygiene products’ drive again and if you’d like to do the same, do it. If you want to have a Time of the Month Club, use the graphic. Let me know, though, so I can be happy about it. The homeless shelters in your town will be super glad when you show up with a bag full of tampons. But call them first to coordinate.
It’s not all glamour helping women, not all about the Supreme Court, and leaning in. Sometimes, it’s just about helping them make sure they don’t bleed through.