Maplewoodian by Joe Strupp

SOMA and The New Menstruation Equity Campaign

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the author of "Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand for Menstrual Equity," will be at Words Bookstore in Maplewood on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. Credits: Words Bookstore website

Menstruation, which has long been an awkward topic for most men, and an embarrassing subject for many women, has lately been part of the conversation in SOMA.

Maplewood attorney and author Jennifer Weiss-Wolf's book Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand For Menstrual Equity was just published.

The South Orange-based non-profit Girls Helping Girls. Period. focuses solely on providing feminine hygiene products to women and girls in need.

Sign Up for E-News

Maplewood Township even has an initiative to stock all the public restrooms with feminine hygiene products.

However, there is still work to be done, especially in the South Orange Maplewood School District.

While New Jersey is among the 34 states that do not tax tampons and feminine pads, we have not followed some other states -- New York among them -- in requiring that they be provided free in all public building restrooms.

Nowhere is that more noticeable than in our local schools, none of which provide feminine products in girls’ restrooms for students. At Columbia High School and in both middle schools, students must take time and go to the school nurse to get these products.

“From anecdotal evidence we have found these are not products that girls steal and there are easy ways to make the products available if only in some bathrooms and allow them to get back to learning,” said Elise Joy, a local mother of two teen girls and co-founder of Girls Helping Girls. Period, a national non-profit group that raises funds to buy feminine products for those in need.

Asked why the district does not stock girls restrooms with free feminine products, District Spokeswoman Suzanne Turner stated via email:

While there is no specific Board policy on feminine hygiene products, Board policy #5561 states “(3)(b) Hygiene care. No student may be denied or subjected to an unreasonable delay in the provision of common hygiene care.”

There is no lack of feminine hygiene products at our schools, nor are there unreasonable delays in providing products, upon request. SOMSD has an ample supply of feminine hygiene products in each nurse’s office for “emergencies” – when a girl gets her period unexpectedly or needs products during the school day. 

Turner also pointed out that the district has partnered with Girls Helping Girls. Period. and other groups that provide free products and directed students to use those resources to stock up.

Joy countered that view, saying, “Nurses have told me they find that some girls come to the nurse and don’t mind asking, but there are other girls who for whatever reason find it easier to leave school and go home.”

Joy’s group launched about three years ago after she asked guests coming to a party to skip the bottle of wine and bring a box of tampons or pads for a donation collection instead. She said 5,000 were gathered that night.

After some other friends held similar parties for a combined haul of 50,000 products they were donated to a food pantry and a movement was born.

“Girls Helping Girls. Period. is proudly partnering with more than 20 schools in Essex County to provide all of the girls in need in those schools with a full year’s supply of tampons and pads,” said Joy. 

But South Orange Maplewood schools have not taken advantage of that offer.

The organization even has a “pad bank” where some 250,000 of the products are stored. Fittingly it’s in the basement of the Bank of America on Maplewood Avenue, courtesy of the building’s owners, Carlo Caparruva and Reed Kean, who donated the space.

While the school district is handling it, or mishandling it, one way, Maplewood Township is implementing a $10,000 plan that will have free pads and tampons in all Township buildings as soon as next month, according to Assistant Business Administrator Sonia A. Viveiros.

“We are in the midst of completing this project,” she said via email. “All of the products and materials have been purchased and received. Installations will commence at the beginning of January where all of our Township buildings/facilities will have fully stocked dispensers of feminine hygiene products.” (Credit outgoing Township Committee member India Larrier for launching that effort years ago)

But should it even be a question? Shouldn't feminine pads and products be as common in restrooms as toilet paper and paper towels?

“Can you imagine walking into any public bathroom and not finding toilet paper?” Joy asked. “You can’t imagine that because a long time ago it was legislated by men that bathrooms had to have it to be clean. These products are not any different than toilet paper. They allow you to take care of a natural bodily function.”

Joy also points out that federal subsidy programs such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, Medicaid and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) do not cover feminine products and pads.

As one of five boys with no sisters, I never lived with a female teen in the home whose puberty was likely much more impactful than my sudden hormone challenges and night time surprises.

With just my mother in the house, period whispers, sanitary napkin wrappers and PMS frustration was minimal at best. I learned only what I needed to about “the curse” and had no one-on-one interaction with females of child-bearing years until much later.

Still, had me and my friends been taught that menstruation was as normal and non-shameful as brushing your teeth any awkwardness could have been avoided.

The point made by members of the growing menstruation equity movement is the whisper treatment of periods and menstruation has led to downright unfair treatment of women and girls.

But the tide is turning. Maplewood Township’s planned provisions and groups like Girls Helping Girls. Period. show the equity fight is working.

Another soldier in that battle is local author Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, whom I first came across about three years ago when the Maplewood lawyer was up in arms about the school district’s sexist dress code. 

A prominent attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and mother of three, Weiss-Wolf was properly outraged when her then sixth-grade daughter was forced to cover-up the shirt and shorts she was wearing to class that resembled those donned by any young girl in warm weather.

Weiss-Wolf took to the keyboard that year with all the subtlety of a flame-thrower, crafting columns in both Slate and Al-Jazeera that eventually helped rewrite the anti-girl dress code that required girls’ clothes to pass some imaginary “fingertip test.” Likely written by a grey-haired man somewhere, it actually stated skirts and shorts must “reach to the fingertips of the extended arm.”   

“The message and actions perpetuated by gender-biased implementation of school dress codes—the blaming and shaming of our girls—has got to stop,” she wrote in Slate.

Fast forward to 2017 and Weiss-Wolf is back with another cause, and this time in book form as she promotes Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand For Menstrual Equity.

She’ll be at Words Bookstore in Maplewood Village Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. signing copies and discussing the topic of periods, equality and why women are so unfairly treated about this issue.

“I want people to come away with an understanding of the issue, it is written as a memoir, my own experience engaging in this movement,” Weiss-Wolf said. “I want the reader to come away with a little bit of a blueprint and what it still takes to do that. I want our policy makers and activists to read the forward-looking agenda and get behind it.”

The book is broken down into three parts: A look at the history of the cultural, religious and societal views of menstruation; the recent activism explosion and media attention and product innovation; and the forward-looking policy agenda for improvements.

“We have decided that toilet paper is a right and should be provided in all public restrooms, why not related to menstruation?” Weiss-Wolf said. “Because it affects women, because you don’t talk about menstruation.”

A lot of people are talking now and hopefully a lot more will be listening.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Of Dull Elections, Pool Waivers and Vandalism

After a historic Township Committee election in 2017 that brought us the first openly gay member of the TC, and then a split vote for mayor in which Vic DeLuca retained his post in a last-minute surprise, 2018 could prove to be the dullest campaign in years.

That’s because incumbents Nancy Adams and Greg Lembrich are running unopposed in the upcoming Democratic primary, and no one is ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 14

On this week’s AtlantiCast, an internationally recognized orthopedic oncologist takes a leadership role at Atlantic Health System, see the newest weapon in the fight against HPV-related cancers, Atlantic Health System leads the Castle Connolly / Inside Jersey Rankings, and much more!


South Orange Police Blotter - Theft and Burglary Reported

April 19, 2018

South Orange Police Blotter as of April 19

Theft - An East Orange resident reported that on Tuesday, April 17, at approximately 9:20 a.m., actor(s) unknown stole some tools from a construction site on Valley Street. The stolen tools, valued at over $500.00 were a Makita brand drill set and electrical saw.

Burglary to Auto - An Irvington resident reported that on Thursday, April ...

South Orange Police Blotter - Three Arrests Reported

South Orange Police Blotter as of April 12

Adult Arrest - Sean Carr, a 30 year old West Orange resident, was arrested on Saturday, April 7, at approximately 10:30 a.m. for attempted auto theft. Officers responded to the Cleanway Car Wash on Irvington Avenue where employees had a subject detained (Carr) who had just tried to steal a vehicle from the car wash. Officers arrested Carr and ...

41st Annual SOMA Interfaith Holocaust Service and March of Remembrance Held on Sunday

April 19, 2018

MAPLEWOOD AND SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The 41st Annual SOMA Interfaith Holocaust Service and March of Remembrance was held on Sunday, April 15. The march assembled in Spiotta Park on Maplewood Avenue in Maplewood, and was called to order with the blowing of the shofar.

Local elected officials who attended included Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, Maplewood Township Committee member Dean Dafis, and ...

Water Main Break on Baker Street in Maplewood Wednesday Morning

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Shortly after 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Maplewood police reported receiving a call from a commuter on his way to work who noticed a small geyser of water in front of 34 Baker St., next to the driveway to the Maplewood Country Club. 

According to Maplewood police, they requested assistance from New Jersey American Water to shut off the water, but as of 7:10 a.m., ...

Upcoming Events

Thu, April 19, 7:00 PM

Restaurant K at Orange Lawn Tennis Club, South Orange

Hank Zona: An Evening of Spanish Wine & Tapas

Food & Drink


Fri, April 20, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink


Fri, April 20, 7:00 PM

Par 440 Restaurant & Lounge, Short Hills

The Extra Rich In Class Dinner Show with E.R.I.C.

Arts & Entertainment Food & Drink

Sat, April 21, 10:00 AM

Maplewood Memorial Library, Maplewood

Spring Book Sale - Friends of Maplewood Library

Education Giving Back Other

Meet Kendra Johnson, Montclair's First African-American Superintendent

April 18, 2018

MONTCLAIR, NJ - Kendra V. Johnson, J.D., Ph.D., has been selected as Montclair’s permanent Superintendent of schools after an extensive search, the Montclair Board of Education announced at a special meeting on April 11. She is the district’s first permanent superintendent in three years, and the first African-American superintendent in its 144-year ...

Man Charged With Kidnapping and Assaulting Essex County Victim

NEWARK, NJ – A New York man appeared in federal court last week to face allegations that he assaulted and kidnapped an individual who had a protection order against him, according to U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito.

Rudolf Szoradi, 50, is charged by four-count criminal complaint with kidnapping, transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines, interstate domestic violence and interstate ...

Atlantic Health Among Six Regional Health Systems Forming Clinical Research Consortium

April 18, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, PA - Seeking to bring clinical trials and innovations in medicine even closer to home, Atlantic Health System, parent company of Summit's Overlook Medical Center, is now part of a group of six regional health systems that are founding members of a nonprofit clinical research consortium – Partners in Innovation, Education, and Research (PIER Consortium) ...

Summit's Central Church, Willis Mission Fund Award $20,000 Grant to Bridges Outreach

SUMMIT, NJ -- Bridges Outreach has been awarded a $20,000 grant to provide case management services to individuals in Newark who are experiencing homelessness by the The Lena Willis Mission Fund of Central Presbyterian Church of Summit.

The grant will provide seven individuals with access to job readiness, internships, employment and rental assistance and ultimately, independence. Each ...

Two South Orange Residents to Be Honored by Temple B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills

April 19, 2018

South Orange residents Charles Oransky and Fredric Smith will be honored by Temple B'nai Jeshurun, Short Hills, at a gala celebration commemorating the synagogue’s 170th anniversary, May 10. The evening's theme, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, pays tribute to the temple's past presidents, the Interfaith Hospitality Network’s founding organizers and the ...

South Mountain YMCA Honors Eighth Grader Who Organized Massive Food and Clothes Drive

A trip to Manhattan with the South Mountain YMCA shaped Daniel Goldsmith’s life. “As we headed toward Bryant Park, I saw a homeless man lying under some scaffolding, and I remember he had a sign saying `Please give me money … I am starving.’ ”

The experience moved Goldsmith to action: For his Eagle Scout project, the South Orange Middle School eighth grader ...

Pitch Perfect: Top 10 A Cappella Group Comes to Millburn

Millburn High graduate Samuel Dantowitz is bringing his award-winning a cappella group home for an evening of music. Northeast ICCA Champions, Upper Structure, will be holding a concert Thursday, April 19. Newark Academy's a cappella group LumeNAtion will open the show. The concert will take place in Christ Church at 7 p.m. 66 Highland Ave, Short Hills, NJ 07078. Tickets are $15 adult / $10 ...