The Idaho Legislature treats women’s bodies as taboo, and that’s everyone’s problem
Killing House Bill 313 only perpetuates the idea that being born a woman comes with an unspoken code of “shut-up-and-deal-with-it” responsibilities, writes guest columnist Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.
The Idaho State Capitol building in Boise on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
This column was first published by the Sandpoint Reader on March 24, 2023.
I started my period at 15 years old.
If your first thought after reading that last sentence was that it seemed too personal or too intimate to share with an audience of mostly strangers, I disagree.
If your first thought was, “Wow, Lyndsie was a late bloomer,” then you’re right — and you’re probably a woman.
Anyway, I started my period at 15 years old. I was mostly unaffected by the event, albeit a little relieved. I’d thought the day would never come, after all of my friends had already checked “first menstrual cycle” off their womanhood list. I didn’t grow up in a family that celebrated the milestone outright, but it also wasn’t taboo. In a house full of sisters, monthly bleeding was a fact of life.
Based on a recent vote in the Idaho Legislature, you’d think monthly bleeding was a secret burden belonging to the monolith of shameful inconveniences afforded exclusively to the female of the species.
On March 20, the Idaho House killed a bill that would have funded free menstrual products in public school girls’ bathrooms. House Bill 313, sponsored by two Republicans, would have put pads and tampons on the same state-funded level as toilet paper, paper towels and soap, costing $435,000 for dispenser installs and just more than $300,000 for annual hygiene product restocking, according to the Idaho Statesman. The Statesman also reported that Idaho is expected to see a $1.4 billion tax revenue surplus this fiscal year.
Advocates for the bill said students without access to period products are often left to ask school administrators and friends for help. A recent survey conducted in eastern Idaho found that 75% of female students have missed a class or day of school because they didn’t have access to pads or tampons, and a national survey found that almost a quarter of female students can’t afford to buy their own.
Despite the stats and GOP sponsorship, HB 313 died on a 35-35-0 vote. I’m proud to say that local Rep. Mark Sauter, R-Sandpoint, voted in favor of the measure. Unfortunately, Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, did not.
Lawmakers criticized the proposal for being too “woke.” According to the Statesman, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, led the bill’s opposition, calling it a “very liberal policy,” and asked “Why are our schools obsessed with the private parts of our children?”
That says more about her than it does about the bill, but I digress.
This is the kind of thinking that only perpetuates the idea that being born a woman comes with an unspoken code of “shut-up-and-deal-with-it” responsibilities. This kind of thinking is the reason why purity and politeness are among the chief expectations of “respectable women.” This kind of thinking leads to the sudden closure of very basic, essential health care services in our local hospital. Without this kind of thinking, it would be impossible for Bonner General Health to close its obstetrics ward with no clear solutions for pregnant women and an overarching assumption that people can alter their entire lives to seek care for themselves and their unborn children in other cities.
“You’ll figure it out,” is the message we receive. “Ask your teacher for a pad. And in a few years, we really hope you can avoid giving birth in the car!”
Under the guise of avoiding “wokeness,” women’s needs are cast aside; but, rather than cause an uproar (we can’t risk being seen as unhinged, you know), we figure it out. Thanks to the Idaho Legislature, adolescent girls experiencing their first menstrual cycles will continue to get a crash course in figuring it out, often to the detriment of their education and self image.
Women’s bodies are crazy cool, and yet, the very functions that make them so powerful are branded by existing establishments as dirty and awkward — in other words, taboo. This is done intentionally, redefining women’s bodies as political battlegrounds and allowing for rampant virtue signaling. By minimizing understanding of women’s bodies, their personhood and agency is easier to deny, and current practices — the ones that make it so schoolchildren are forced to ask for tampons is a shameful whisper or make it so pregnant women have to call around to regional obstetricians in hopes that they can receive vital, timely care — are able to continue.
There must be a paradigm shift so that monthly bleeding is considered the natural bodily function that it is. I’m not sure where that paradigm shift begins, but it may help to remember where we all came from: women.
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