This NYU Student Is Fighting the Taboo Around Menstruation

Natalia Barr, Staff Writer

The modern taboos of speaking openly about menstruation may be on their way out the door. Periods have been getting more attention than ever before these past few months, sparked by controversy over the “tampon tax” and the drama over the THINX underwear subway advertisements.

Tisch junior Gloria Zingales started paying attention a year ago, when she was scrolling through Tumblr and saw a post about #TheHomelessPeriod, a movement in the U.K. that seeks to make products like tampons and sanitary napkins available to women in homeless shelters.

“A light bulb went off in my head,” Zingales said. “Actually, it was kind of like a raging ball of fire. I was like, ‘What do you mean women don’t have tampons?’”

Upon realizing that homeless women of New York experience the same plight, Zingales enlisted her friends CAS junior Edelawit Hussein, Tisch junior Maya Baroody and Gallatin junior Akili King to form FemmeCare, an initiative that provides feminine products to those who need them and starts a conversation about periods.

The group held their first event in November of 2015 with a simple goal: collect donations for #TheHomelessPeriod in New York. They created a Facebook event that hundreds were invited to, and Zingales recruited San Francisco artist Lea Carney to help create a logo that features an illustration of — you guessed it — tampons. They sat with a sign featuring the image in Washington Square Park.

“It was a lot of old guys staring at the sign and being shocked by the bloody tampons,” Zingales said.

The event was a success in more ways than one. The group received plenty of donations that they were able to bring to a homeless shelter, and they also received the attention they needed to move forward with their project.

The drive first grabbed attention from the founders of Got a Girl Crush, a magazine and blog that focuses on women’s issues. The two groups discussed possible steps FemmeCare could take, and decided to hold an event for an artist showcase.

From there, FemmeCare received support from LOLA, a customizable tampon delivery service, and THINX, the period underwear company that came under fire from the MTA for their advertisements. Hussein came across Gurls Talk, an organization founded by model Adwoa Aboah to create a space for women to talk about issues they care about, and reached out through Instagram. The group also created a GoFundMe in order to raise the $500 they needed to rent out Ludlow Studios, where the showcase would be held.

“We were hustling in those last few months especially just to get it all together,” Hussein said.

On Feb. 21, FemmeCare held their artist showcase and discussion. THINX CEO Miki Agrawal spoke about the menstrual taboo, and the event featured artists Ella Barnes, Maya Baroody, Lea Carey, Maria Marrone, Chioma Nwana, Isabella Tan and Bianca Valle, many of whom are NYU students. Some artists contributed completed works, and others created works specific for the event.

Tisch junior Bianca Valle displayed her series of photographs, “That’s Her.”

“The portraits I shot for the event were of some of my close friends at NYU,” Valle said. “I wanted their own personalities to shine through, as well as a touch of my imagination to be visible.”

Another Tisch junior, Maria Marrone showed an untitled series of portraits. The photographs are part of a larger series in which she interviewed women of color about their experiences and then designed shoots based on what they said.

“It’s very important to build those kinds of environments where women can feel comfortable and where we can do something for a greater good,” Marrone said. “It’s really nice to see women come together in sisterhood like that.”

With a successful turnout and overflow of donations, — admission to the event was one feminine hygiene product donation — Zingales was happy that the purpose of the event was not lost.

“I felt like so many people came there with an open heart and genuine interest and excitement to be there,” she said.

Both Zingales and Hussein agree that FemmeCare will continue to evolve. They hope that someday their movement can expand to a national level, but before then, Zingales says that she wants to interact more with the women FemmeCare donates to.

Zingales also hopes to find a way to incorporate the trans community into her cause. For now, she is glad to partner with THINX and LOLA, since both organizations recognize that not everyone who experiences menstruation identifies as a woman or is biologically female.

What’s most important for the founders of FemmeCare is to maintain their purpose for diminishing the taboo surrounding menstruation.

“Having the privilege to go to a university comes with the responsibility to create a conversation about these issues and pursue a solution,” Hussein said, “I think that’s a responsibility that comes with having the privilege to go out and buy tampons.”

Although the FemmeCare team hasn’t announced their next event yet, you can follow them on Instagram to keep up with the project.

Email Natalia Barr at [email protected]