NYU, Feminine Hygiene Products, and Millennial Melodrama

Last week, two students at New York University started a petition that exemplifies the sense of entitlement of which millennials are constantly accused: “Bring Free Menstrual Hygiene Products to NYU.” As a female and current college student who occasionally uses such complimentary supplies on my own campus, I did not think the request was unreasonable. If students wanted menstrual hygiene products (MHPs) provided as part of their tuition or student health plan, it was worth asking. However, the written portion of the petition is so overly dramatic and entitled that I almost wondered if the petition was some sort of satire that was going over my head (a cursory look at the comments section and the authors’ related op-ed assured me it was not).

The students make a fair point that condoms are more accessible on campus than MHPs, which would be enough to make their case. Instead, the students continue in a melodramatic and demanding tone that undermines the practicality of the simple request to provide more complimentary hygiene products.

In the first paragraph, the petitioners assert that students at NYU struggle to access MHPs. Their first assertion, that many students cannot afford the $10 a month to buy these products, sets the tone for the drama of the entire argument. They claim that students are often forced to choose between MHPs, a necessary health product, and food or transportation. I feel confident in surmising that there are almost no NYU students who are actually skipping meals to pay for their periods, let alone “many”. If there are, it is still a weak argument that the university is responsible for remedying this valid issue.

It seems like a weak argument that because a few students may struggle to pay a relatively cheap cost, all should have the products free, but to assert that the products are a serious financial burden for most students is a huge hit to credibility for the writers. Later, however, the writers explain why the products should be universally free for everyone, not just financially struggling students — the fact that women have to pay for tampons at all is a great injustice.

The writers claim that “Our [female] bodies shouldn’t have to be more expensive than other bodies.” This statement makes little sense in general and has nothing to do with the university. Female and male bodies are different and require different products to keep clean and healthy. Males do not purchase MHPs, but both sexes purchase an array of health products each month. Claiming that there is an injustice in hygiene costs for women is both unfounded and irrelevant. Society does not impose the menstrual burden upon women; nature does. The fact that women have to deal with menstruation is an inconvenience rather than an injustice and does not support the assertion that even well-to-do students have a gender equality-based right to MHPs provided through tuition money.

The authors continue to lend their own special support to the stereotype of millennials and women as dramatic when they further claim that it is so difficult to manage a menstrual cycle that it impedes women’s education. This may be true in middle school, but after several years of dealing with menstruation, adults should be able to handle the situation relatively well (and usually do). The writers go even further, asserting, “By making MHPs inaccessible to those who need them, NYU implicitly accepts that barriers to education based on anatomy are permissible. This is unfair and discriminatory.”

The writers are not wrong in claiming that women sometimes forget MHPs or inconveniently run out, the way people do with all health products, but to claim that NYU is discriminating against women because they do not account for what should be a personal responsibility is absurd. Furthermore, the use of “inaccessible” implies that NYU has banned MHPs or barred students from using them, something that is clearly not happening.

By the end of the petition, they request for such products to be put in male, female, and gender neutral bathrooms, protecting all students who menstruate. I would imagine the ones in the men’s bathroom will collect dust, but after their exaggerated diagnosis of the problem, it naturally follows that the details of their request would be overdone.

Of course, their basic request has merit. The university provides many other things, including toilet paper, trash bags, and condoms, so it would be reasonable and likely beneficial to provide MHPs as well in certain locations. However, the assertions that the lack of provided MHPs is discriminatory, a widespread financial burden, and an impediment on women’s education makes a reasonable request into a self-inflicted mockery of millennials. The whole petition is covered in a thick layer of entitlement and pretentious appeals to justice. It is possible to ask for an added tuition benefit as students without also supposing yourself on the forefront of gender and health care justice issues or shallowly appealing to “student rights”.

I hope that NYU provides free MHPs in a few of its bathrooms or at the health center. I also hope they do not claim the move a brave act of social progress or concede that the previous situation was unjust. University-supplied health products are a privilege, not a right. Millennials would do well to ask instead of demand and to save charges of discrimination and injustice for actual instances of discrimination and injustice.

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