New book: Social Situation Survival Guide!

Growing Up Powerful: Ep 15. Girls Helping Girls Period

Asha interviews Elise and Quinn Joy, co-executive directors of Girls Helping Girls Period and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Vice President at NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice and executive director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network and author of the book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity. They discuss menstrual equity and the importance of access to menstrual hygiene products in school, at work, and wherever there are people with periods.

This is episode 15 of our Growing Up Powerful miniseries! These are stories about dealing with big feelings, growing up, and connecting to the world around you. And just so you know, some of these themes may be mature for our younger Rebels. We encourage listening with your grown up.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book Rebel Girls: Growing Up Powerful. This series was produced by Joy Smith, Deborah Goldstein, and Haley Dapkus, with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan and sensitivity read by Schuyler Swenson. Narration by Margaret Ying Drake as Asha and Imani Parks as Jestine. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Our executive producers were Joy Smith and Jes Wolfe. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!


ASHA: Hello! And welcome to Growing Up Powerful, the bonus episode!

I’m Asha, your co-host on the Rebel Girls Growing Up Powerful series. And I’m here with some very special guests who are standing up for women’s rights and working hard to achieve … menstrual equity! To tell us about what menstrual equity IS, we invited 2 of the 3 founders of Girls Helping Girls Period, Quinn and Elise Joy, AND Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, Vice President at NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice and executive director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network and author of the book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity.
Hello and welcome! Can you tell us a little about yourselves please?

Elise Joy:
Hi, I’m Elise Joy. I am a co-founder of Girls Helping Girls Period, along with my daughters Quinn and Emma, and I serve as our executive director.
Quinn Joy:
Hi, I’m Quinn. I’m also a co-founder of Girls Helping Girls. Period.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf:
Hi, this, hi, I’m Jennifer. I am a lawyer and an advocate and a writer. Uh, and I wrote the book called Periods Gone Public.

ASHA: Fantastic. And…how did you all get involved in this kind of work? Girls Helping Girls Period started with collecting donations of pads and tampons, right?

QUINN: So, We started having parties, we called them Party at our Pad, um, and they were just fun parties. We invited everybody. We knew all the moms, all the aunts, all the friends, all the, some of the dads came too, which is great. And we started getting some donations and we donated. And it really just never stopped. Um, and I think something to highlight is that it was in our very own community. It was at my own high school and middle school and elementary school even.

ELISE: When we did our first project we were able to take all of those donations and turn them into one year packs that were given to a local food to families at a local food pantry. And for those 180 families, it was really significant because it meant for the next year, they just didn’t have to worry about how they were going to manage their periods, which is how we all should be. And for us, it was so significant because the work we had done was so meaningful. It was fun. We got to work with our friends and we saw how much good we were doing and it fueled us to just continue. And incidentally, Jen and her family were part of that,  donation that we originally made.

JENNIFER: So I met the Joy family when they had initiated this project or maybe a little bit after. It was early January in 2015. And my mind was blown. I had never thought about this before. And because I have this background as a lawyer, um, and as somebody who thinks about, um, public policy and systemic change, that was where my mind went right away. So we were super excited to host a party, um, and collect products and make those part of that first major, um, contribution that girls Helping Girls Period did. Um, but I also immediately just started thinking about Why wasn’t their public funding covering this? What was going on here?

ASHA: Right!

JENNIFER: So I, I actually created this great big memo and I brought it city hall in New York City and had come up with about, probably about a dozen ideas that I thought that, that, you know, that the law could be called upon to serve. And too much to my surprise and delight, the city council said, you know what, you’re right. And those actually turned into, um, proposals, which turned into bills, which turned into laws one year later. Um, and they required that all of the city’s public schools, all of the city’s emergency shelters and shelters for people experiencing housing instability and all of the city’s jails were required to provide menstrual products for anybody who was in those systems.

ASHA: Okay, so, the three of you write and talk about periods a lot. What does that feel like?

ELISE: There are a lot of people who think it’s not something we should talk about, but getting a period is as natural and normal as anything else our bodies do. And we think it’s really important that we have a place where we can all talk about them, we can learn about them, we can learn about the issues, we can learn about the problems, we can talk about solutions. And our blog is a place where we want readers to be able to go and learn ideas for how to manage their periods.
And very, maybe most importantly we have a spot called PS Period Stories where um, anybody who gets a period and even people who don’t get periods can share their period stories. We all have them, some of us have a lot of them. And until we all get comfortable with talking about periods, it’s really hard to solve the problems surrounding them. We want everyone to feel as comfortable as they can talking about this thing that makes our bodies do amazing things.

QUINN: I actually wanna add on that. I think, like I mentioned before, something in my own life that I just have never really personally felt was the natural stigma that there is around menstruation. And it is all because I always was loud about it. I always talked about it with my friends. It was something we bonded over. It was never a source of shame for me as it should, shouldn’t be for anyone else.

ASHA: I love that so much. Okay, and what exactly is this term you use a lot…MENSTRUAL EQUITY?
ELISE: often people have said that those of us who get periods should just take on the responsibility of making sure we always have what we need to manage them. If you need pads or tampons, just make sure you always have them. That’s what other people do. But in the same way that if you are a student of any gender who raises their hand in school to go to the bathroom because you need to pee, you’re going to the bathroom to do something your body naturally does. And when you go there, you will find everything you need to take care of yourself. But if you’re a person who raises your hand to go to the bathroom because you need to care for your period, another completely natural bodily function, you do not find everything you need in the bathroom and not finding it can lead to an accident. Embarrassment, more stigma and shame. You’re needing to leave school. You’re not coming to school in the first place. All of that has an impact on education and in the workplace. It can have an impact on work. That’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about menstrual equity. You can almost think of it as bathroom equity. Everyone should be able to go into a bathroom and find whatever they need to do the natural things our bodies do and then go back to class, go back to work, go back to living their lives.

ASHA: Whoa, I never thought of it like that.

JENNIFER: For a long time, periods weren’t really spoken about publicly. Definitely not spoken about by lawmakers, by legislators, by leaders in our society. So we ended up with a lot of inequitable circumstances, uh, where we discovered that for lack of menstrual products, people might sit out of school, they might not be able to go to work, um, for lack of menstrual education. They might not even understand what’s happening to them so that they could take care of themselves to the best of their ability. So until you name a problem, you can’t really forge a solution, but putting it in the framework of equity enabled people to do both to name the problem and think about solutions.

ASHA: Okay, so what can we do to support Girls Helping Girls and this movement?

QUINN: I think a really great place to start is education and advocacy. I think there are lots of knowledge gaps among everybody in our community, those who menstruate and those who don’t about menstrual equity as a whole. And I think that’s a great place to start is always just educating yourself and maybe educating some of your friends and people around you as it comes up in conversation or start the conversation. I think looking into your own community gives it a personal connection, gives you, you know, the more of a drive to want to make the change where you are. And starting small is the best way to make change.

ASHA: Make the change where you are. Yes! I love it. Elise?

ELISE: One of the best things you can do is simply to talk about it, to educate yourself, to educate others. (29:21): And I’m talking about regardless of your gender, it’s important that we all understand how all of our bodies work and they’re, you don’t always get all of that education in school and a lot of people don’t get at home. The other thing is, we have found that when we talk to business owners, when we talk to principals, when we talk to people about the need to make their spaces more equitable, most of the time they were not aware of the problem, but they want to be part of the solution. They just need to have the discussion. So talking about it really, really helps.

JENNIFER: You do not need to go, you know, walk up the steps of Capitol Hill and go speak to your US senator. Um, you can speak to community leaders, you can speak to people who have influence in your own life and community, but you can do, you can, you can leverage all of your gifts. If you are great at social media, if you are a poet, if you have an artist, if you are an athlete, um, there are so many ways you can tell your story. There’s room at the table for everybody and so many forms of storytelling.
ASHA: That’s so helpful. Yes. Well, thank you all for your amazing work, Jennifer, Elise, and Quinn!
QUINN: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a really lovely conversation with you guys. Thanks.
JENNIFER: Thanks so much for everything.
QUINN: Right. Thank you all so much for having me. It’s been a great conversation.

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls.

This episode was narrated by ME! Margaret Ying Drake as ASHA, with special guests Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, and Elise and Quinn Joy. It was produced and directed by Deborah Goldstein, with Joy Smith and Haley Dapkus. Sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was edited by Abby Sher. Our executive producers are Jes Wolfe and Joy Smith.

Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi.

A special thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible!

Until next time, staaaay rebel!

If you like what you heard here and want to learn more, check out the newest book from Rebel Girls! Growing Up Powerful: A Guide to keeping confident when your body is changing, your mind is racing, and the world is…complicated. With stories from rebels all over the world and guidance from some brilliant experts, this book is our newest bff. Order your copy of Growing up Powerful today on Amazon or anywhere you purchase books!