“I both don’t want to be known as period girl, but am also willing to if it means that people will be able to get basic rights, dignity, and health,” Jordan Ferdman (11) said. This year, Ferdman, Alexis Fry (11), and Ericka Familia (11), co-founded Period @ HM, the school’s first club dedicated to menstrual equity.
The idea for the club began three years ago, when Ferdman was in eighth grade, she said. She saw a drive for menstrual products online, and learned about the menstrual equity movement. Up until then, she hadn’t even known that there were people who did not have access to menstrual products.
The club is a branch of Period., The Menstrual Movement, a national organization. “As a broader non profit, the mission is to raise awareness of the systemic rules that are set into law that make menstrual products less accessible,” Fry said.
“It impacts people’s lives to not be able to talk about [menstruation] openly, and to not have access to menstrual products some of which are labeled as luxury items, which has economic consequences” club advisor and French teacher Caroline Dolan said. “One of the things that the club is about is addressing taboos regarding people who menstruate and menstruation in general, starting open conversations, and underlining that it is natural.”
Legally, menstrual products are labeled as luxury items, because they are not seen as necessities, Fry said. This means that tax is added to the already expensive product prices. “Essentially, this tax is unfair,” she said. “Menstruators who don’t have money to even buy food will not think about buying pads or tampons.”
Creating the club was not an easy process, Ferdman said. After learning about the movement in 2017, it took her two years to feel comfortable bringing the issue into school. This was because she was too scared to even say the word ‘period,’ she said.
“At this point, I decided to do a drive for my service learning project,” Ferdman said. “It was an incredibly exciting learning experience in a lot of ways. I had never really talked about menstruation with anyone except my closest friends. It was really vulnerable.”
This year, Ferdman realized that she could do even more. With Dolan’s help, Familia, Fry, and Ferdman began the Period @ HM Club. Overall, Period @ HM is about “advocacy, education and opening dialogue within and outside the Horace Mann community,” Ferdman said.
“An average club meeting fluctuates between open discussion and presentation,” Ferdman said. “It is really important for us to both talk about how menstruation is addressed within the Horace Mann community, and about outreach and how to cause fundamental change.”
In the past few months, the club has spearheaded numerous successful initiatives. “We held a workshop during Unity Week about the portrayal of periods in the media, and we got really positive feedback during that,” Familia said.
More recently, the club held a menstrual product donation drive for families awaiting movement on their asylum petitions at the Mexico border. “Over the summer, the idea that I could collaborate with other independent schools was born,” Ferdman said. “I reached out to some of them and just recently we concluded a drive-in collaboration with Brearley, Chapin, Dalton, Dwight, Friends Seminary, Grace Church, Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin, Nightingale, Riverdale, Spence, and Trinity.”
This past Friday marked the end of the donations, and the club managed to collect a total of 14,140 pads and tampons, surpassing their already impressive goal of 10,000 products by over 40%. When Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly heard about their successful endeavor, he offered for the school to match the amount of products donated, doubling the club’s success. In total, the club will have managed to donate almost 30,000 menstrual products.
The club has also faced several challenges during the school year. The student leaders wanted to make sure they had representation in meetings from lots of different people. “[Menstruation] tends to be stigmatized as something that only female-identifying people are talking about,” Dolan said. “That should not be the case. We have to encourage all people to participate in those discussions.”
Ferdman also finds the club challenging to lead on a personal level, she said. “Sending emails to people I didn’t know and had never spoken to about collaborating on a menstrual equity initiative was definitely difficult, but so worth it.”
However, Ferdman knew that completing the drive was more important than her concerns. “It’s way more important than what a random teacher at Brearley thinks of me.”
Ferdman tries to exude confidence when talking about the club, but it is still very hard for her to say ‘will you come to a period club meeting? “I think that it’s just trying to call myself out when I hesitate or stutter, just always pushing through,” she said.
“I’ve been doing this for about a year now, and I still sometimes stumble over the word period,” Ferdman said. “It is so ingrained in our cultural norms that menstruation is not something that you talk about.”
Discussions can be hard initially, but the founders of the club believe that it is necessary. “It is impossible to divorce the fact that menstruation is very hard to talk about from the fact that many people don’t have access to these products,” Ferdman said. “People in positions of power, who are mostly men, refuse to talk about [the lack of access to products] and then the cycle just continues,” she said. “This needs to be stopped, and I think that can be done by facilitating discussions. It’s very difficult and it’s very vulnerable, even though we logically understand that it shouldn’t be.”
“One of our main goals is to just have discussions surrounding the topic,” Familia said. “If no one is talking about it, it will continue to be something that is considered taboo.”
Although the launch of the club has been difficult, the club leaders are excited for what is to come. “We are definitely planning on holding a few more drives throughout the year, as well as more meetings,” Familia said.
“I hope that [in the future] it gets easier to talk about, both for other people and myself,” Ferdman said. “I hope that we can continue doing drives that continue to be successful. I hope that the club has a life after I graduate.”
Throughout the year, Ferdman has been very pleasantly surprised by how much people care, are willing to show up, be vulnerable, and donate. “It has meant so much to me,” she said.