AuthorWeiss-Wolf, Jennifer
PositionSymposium Conference: Are You There Law? It's Me, Menstruation

I was in fifth grade, the year 1978, and the weathered purple- and orange-covered paperback copy of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, was finally mine to check out of the school library for an entire week. I read it cover to cover that first night, and surely a dozen times over in the years that followed. I have since reflected upon the extraordinary gifts Judy Blume bestowed in Margaret, enabling children to be seen, respected, and met right when and where it mattered. She validated the most mundane, yet oddly prolific, questions about periods that were clearly on the minds of many.

Four decades later, it is fair to say that the most meaningful moments of my legal career have been spent considering the very same topic--menstruation--in a quest to ensure its political centrality to issues of social justice, democratic participation, and gender equality. For my own part, commitment to menstrual equity has entailed examining our current laws and systems to see where discrimination and bias exist and persist--from public benefits to tax codes to education--and then forging the arguments to reverse that. And then, importantly, reimagining, crafting, and advancing new and more equitable policies in their place.

The Trump era was something of a fulcrum for this advocacy, despite its inauspicious start. Recall the first debate of Republican presidential candidates in August 2015 when Trump railed at Megyn Kelly for having "blood coming out of her wherever." Even in a highly charged partisan environment, our movement racked up a multitude of legislative wins in Congress, in the states, and around the world--new laws that made menstrual products tax-free, more affordable and accessible, and freely provided in schools, shelters, jails, and prisons.

Still, I would not quite have predicted that all I'd gleaned about the politics of periods would have led me to this particular essay: a calling to go public with menopause.

And yet, it is also the inevitable sequel to my story. To all our stories.

Flashback to January 2020. Things were looking ... promising? (Yes, I had no idea.) I was headed to southern California to attend the premiere of Pandora's Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation, the first feature-length documentary film about global menstrual activism. (1) Bookending that trip was stops in Michigan (2) and Washington (3) to lobby local leaders in support of campaigns to eliminate the "tampon tax" in each of those states. While staying overnight in Seattle between meetings, I splurged for the hotel spa package--a detail I remember all too vividly, only because as soon as I approached the pristine treatment table, my period arrived like a grisly crime scene. At fifty-two years old, I could debate menstrual policy like a pro in legislative chambers and before editorial boards, but behind the scenes I still wasn't spared such messy moments.

By the time I returned from the trip, memory of the macabre massage quickly receded as news of the pandemic took over. As of early February, Seattle was the United States epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. That red-eye home was the last flight I would take in 2020. Within weeks, I experienced a slew of "lasts" that I can still barely wrap my brain around--my last time in the audience of a Broadway show, my last round of drinks inside a local brew pub with friends, my last visit to my daughter's college dorm.

There was another "last" for me that coincided with the pandemic. My last period. When it didn't come in March or April or May, I figured my body might just be responding to the stress of sheltering in place and the trauma unfolding around us. I assumed the same about the sudden onset of exceptionally dry, brittle hair. How to explain my rapidly expanding middle? Surely the "Quarantine-15" and all the...

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