Campus Life

Sometimes in lectures, instead of learning, I am freaking out

Why having free tampons and pads in campus bathrooms is necessary

It was freshman fall, and I was sitting in my 7.012 lecture. Professor Eric Lander was up front, in his iconic blue shirt. Everyone was ready to get their minds blown away. Unlike my classmates, I could not focus on the lecture. I was instead intensely focused on an urgent optimization problem: 

If I wait until the end of the lecture, will it bleed through my maroon pants? On second thought, these pants are quite dark, close to a taupe color, so even if it does bleed through, maybe it wouldn’t be obvious?  Oh my god, these seats are light grey, so if it bleeds through my pants, it will definitely stain the seat!

My friend next to me noticed my distress, and asked, “Everything OK?”  I told her in the lightest whisper that I had just gotten my period. She asked her neighbor if she had a tampon or pad so I could still come back to lecture after addressing this emergency in the bathroom. But her neighbor didn’t. There were more shoulder pokes and whispers, propagating through the large lecture hall. Now, instead of paying attention, 10 girls were briskly searching through their backpacks, hoping to find a spare tampon or pad to my rescue. One of my guy friends clearly felt excluded from this covert operation. After he insisted on knowing, I told him, and he suggested, “You should just bring them all the time!”

It was not bad advice. I distinctly remember giving similar advice to my best friend when she was visiting Beijing, my hometown. As a local, I dutifully suggested that she bring pocket pack Kleenexes with her all the time because there might not be toilet paper. But she always forgot. Once, we were in bathroom stalls right next to each other. As my friend put her hand under the gap of the stall wall, reaching for my Kleenex, I lightheartedly complained, “Stop using all my Kleenexes! Bring your own!”

“I’m not used to bathrooms without toilet paper! It doesn’t make sense.”

On a different continent and many time zones over, I, along with almost 50 percent of MIT, am used to using campus bathrooms without menstrual products. I am used to folding toilet paper in a dozen layers to make a substitute pad so I don’t have to miss lecture. I am used to worrying about bleeding through those layers of toilet paper instead of actually listening to my lecturers. I am used to being so worried about bleeding through my make-do pads that I leave lectures to avoid embarrassing myself. I am used to blaming myself for forgetting to bring tampons or not bringing enough. I am used to this “little inconvenience.”  

It doesn’t make sense.  

Yingni Wang is a member of the Class of 2020.