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By now you’ve probably heard about Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s push to expand the state’s CalWORKS program to include $80 a month for low-income families to buy diapers. It’s getting a lot of press lately, both because it’d be the first U.S. welfare program to cover diapers, and because it’s provoked some nasty reactions.

That puts it on the same footing as another idea proposed this week by writer Jessica Valenti, who says governments worldwide should consider subsidizing feminine hygiene products:

And for young women worldwide, getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections. All because too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue.

We need to move beyond the stigma of “that time of the month” – women’s feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time.

Both ideas seek to help low-income women in two ways: by addressing a health issue, and helping working moms stay in the workforce.

Keeping infants in dirty diapers in order to stretch the supply can cause babies to “suffer from painful diaper rashes, fever, vomiting and even urinary tract infection,” and – less discussed – can also foster depression and mental health problems in mothers.

The economic pitch, as laid out by U-T San Diego:

Most child-care centers, even those subsidized by the state, require parents to bring four or five diapers per child per day. Parents who cannot afford the diapers might decide to stay at home with their children and forego searching for a job, Gonzalez said.

Valenti’s proposal has similar roots:

In countries where sanitary products are inaccessible or unaffordable, menstruation can mean missed school for girls (UNICEF estimates 10% of African girls don’t attend school during their periods) and an increased dropout rate, missed work for women and repeated vaginal infections because of unsanitary menstrual products. One study showed that in Bangladesh, 73% of female factory workers miss an average of six days – and six days of pay – every month because of their periods.

Those are precisely the kind of efforts Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, say they’re interested in – programs that help someone get somewhere. Gonzalez’s bill is a direct effort to support working moms who are trying to get it together but teetering right on the cusp of not working.

For all the similarities between Gonzalez and Valenti’s ideas, they share something else in common: a torrent of disgusting, hateful reactions that seem appalled by some of the basic facts of what it means to be a woman.

It’s unavoidable that the reaction to Valenti is gender-specific – after all, women are the only ones who get a period. But the vitriol surrounding Gonzalez’s bill also zeroes in almost entirely on women, even though it takes a man and a woman to create a child, and all children – girls and boys – need diapers.

We are literally talking about making it easier to afford receptacles for blood and shit – items that meet the bare minimum of a woman or child’s physical needs – but they become fancy luxury items when they’re presented in the context of helping working women.

@JessicaValenti can i also pay for ur toilet paper & ur vagina cream?Anything else u need f/ taxpayers just let me know. I gotcha! @DLoesch

— Slocum (@makeliberalscry) August 8, 2014

There’s also a remarkable uniformity to the suggestions pitched to both Gonzalez and Valenti.

The solution, according to the internet haters: Stop being women, basically. How’s that possible? Quit “popping out children” (this is a popular directive among Gonzalez’s critics – everyone knows the gestation and delivery of a child happens in a quick, easy instant). Get a hysterectomy. Remove your ovaries. Stuff objects into your vagina, or sew it shut.

@JessicaValenti Why haven’t you had your ovaries etc. removed yet? Aren;t you one of those “All PIV is Rape” haters? http://t.co/i9tn5MeMYL

— Bob Olewski (@Bobolewsky) August 8, 2014

@chelsea_elisa @JessicaValenti @PAMsLOvE I recommend a free hysterectomy on the NHS for her.

— demonnick666 (@demonnick666) August 9, 2014

@JessicaValenti If you’re so worried abt tampon availability, maybe U need 2 stick a few fingers in UR you-know-what to stem the bleeding.

— #skzdalimit (@skzdalimit) August 8, 2014

(I love that all of these diatribes from the U-T comments section come from designated “top commenters.”)

I won’t wade into the financial merits of Gonzalez’s proposal (though Robin Abcarian makes a strong case here), and so far, Valenti’s proposal is just an idea.

But the fact that we can’t even debate these ideas without devolving into cries of “Let the sluts fend for themselves!” is pretty damn depressing.

See, women’s bodies are supposed to be sexy and available, right up until they start showing any signs of actual womanhood – say, getting pregnant or having a period – at which point they become gross and burdensome.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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