I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to convince people to give my little organization, Time of the Month Club, money to buy homeless women tampons and pads which, once used, will be heaved into some landfill along with disposable diapers and other unpleasant detritus of lives lived in the city.
If one subscribes to the notion that teaching a man (or woman) to fish is superior to giving them fish, then I ought to be doing something more substantial, more enduring that handing somebody a freezer bag of 20 tampons which will be used and tossed in a week’s time. Next month the same woman will need 20 more and the month after that and the month after that. It’s endless.
It’s the challenge that food pantries and meal programs face. The same people come in week after week, nothing really changes. Your good soup served up doesn’t change the reality of poverty. It’s just soup, not an elixir. It functions only in the moment and doesn’t build anything, lead anyone anywhere, teach them how not be a person needing soup. It is just soup.
Frustrated by the limitations of soup, some do-gooders decide to make receipt of their soup conditional, as in, I will give you soup if you come to this employment workshop or I will give you soup if you sign up for food stamps (presumably so you will not longer need donated soup). The conditions are intended to generate progress, a changed, improved state in which one is no longer dependent on the generosity of do-gooders to get by. And that is a good thing, I guess.
But it puts me, the do-gooder, in the driver’s seat of a car I don’t own.
It’s not up to me to hold tampons and pads – or soup if I peddled soup – hostage, pending someone’s compliance with what I think they ought to do with their lives. It’s also not up to me to judge anyone, to decide that some people are more worthy of my precious tampons and pads than others. The parameters around what I do through my wee organization are very tightly drawn. I give homeless women tampons and pads and walk away.
They don’t owe me anything. You see, I’m not giving people menstrual supplies in order to changes their lives. I’m doing it because the thought of women having to scrounge up toilet paper or paper towels or socks to deal with their periods is awful, just on its own, not as a symptom of anything else. The lack of menstrual supplies readily lends itself to a systemic analysis of gender bias and ten thousand other terrible, cosmic things but I don’t think about that. I just think about some poor girl stuck in a stall in a public bathroom with no clue how she’s going to pull herself together and walk out into the world. There’s no ambitious change envisioned by helping her with tampons and pads. The goal is just to help her get out of the stall with her pants and dignity intact.
So once I’ve delivered menstrual supplies and they’re received, the transaction is complete. No one owes anyone anything. No one has a hold over anyone else. Everyone is free to make their next move in the world. I like that way of thinking an awful lot. It feels like respect to me, like what I would want if I was stuck in a bathroom stall or needed a bowl of soup.