Princeton Students for Gender Equality (PSGE) would like to thank the Princeton Tory for covering the Menstruation Celebration we organized in its latest issue, and we want to offer a response. We wish that you had spoken to us about our event before writing about it, as facts matter. The University’s dollars did not pay for the “interesting” raffle prizes we offered, as you stated. “University dollars” did fund other aspects of our event, since, like any other officially recognized student organization, Princeton Students for Gender Equality receives ODUS funding. But the prizes were donated by companies who believed in the mission of our event. By describing our raffle prizes as “interesting,” at best you are insinuating that these products are unnecessary and frivolous, and at worst, implying revulsion and disgust. But these are products which around half of the students at this school need.
You conveniently listed the more attention-grabbing aspects of our event – the period-themed food and games – while leaving out the actual purpose of our event: to educate and remove stigma around periods. Your framing of our event as a waste of “University dollars” and description of menstrual products as “interesting” is a perfect example of why it was so important. Female bodies and their reproductive functions are not taboo or disgusting. They should not be cause for discrimination – though our current president sought to disarm the moderator of a debate by saying she was “bleeding out of her wherever,” and Marc Rudov of Fox News said on the air that the downside of a woman president would be “the PMS and the mood-swings.” Menstruation is too often cited to discriminate against women, so we turned the tables by offering period education and celebration. The food and games were purposeful too – they put representations of uteri and vaginas out in the open, thus normalizing them and reminding attendees that they are not disgusting or shameful.
We also collected many boxes of pads and tampons for Distributing Dignity, an organization that provides access to period supplies to people in homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters. (We are using the term “people” because we are committed to respecting gender identities. Thank you for pointing out the trans-inclusive language we used when inviting “uterus-owners and friends of uterus-owners” to the event.)
In short, we wanted clarify the purpose of our event and point out that the attitudes displayed in your blurb about our event – that period products are “interesting,” that good-humored representations of vagina and uteri are questionable, and that breaking taboos around menstruation is worth mocking and is a waste of University money – are exactly the attitudes we hope to combat.
Princeton Students for Gender Equality (PSGE)
The Tory responds: There are three main issues with the arguments presented here. First, regarding our line, “University dollars hard at work”: While University dollars may not have paid for specific items at the event, ODUS still sponsors this group, and allows it to request money for events such as this. Although PSGE tries to wriggle out of this critique by saying that they received donations of organic tampons and Olives gift cards because “half of the students on this campus need[s]” them, they nevertheless admit that they still take University money. This is basically a Planned Parenthood argument: the government doesn’t fund abortion procedures directly, but their funding of PP allows them to free up money to spend on them.
In addition, the tone of this letter often takes that of a victim: By taking our essentially word-for-word repetition of what PSGE said in a publicly-distributed listerv email, we apparently expressed “revulsion and disgust” and “mocking” towards this group. And by using the word “interesting,” which literally means, “holding the attention,” to describe an email with photos of female reproductive organs, PSGE seems to think we verbally abused them. But in truth we were simply stating the facts, which facts PSGE explicitly claims “matter.” Perhaps this simply demonstrates Chesterton’s quip that the simplification of anything is always sensational. Nevertheless, this tone covers up for their inadequate defense to the third point…
Where does PSGE draw the line? The Tory doesn’t deny the importance of personal dignity given to women, and is disappointed with the clumsy association made by the letter between our spartan comments and the irresponsible words of President Trump. Yet before this dignity is turned into a crusade for breaking a taboo, one must differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate taboos. Some taboos relating to sex might be appropriate, since they privatize aspects of sex, an inherently personal, intimate act. The arguments made in the letter, however, establish no clear standard for differentiation, leaving no reason for students not to use “good-humored” explicit images of genatalia for an “awareness” day for STDs, etc. And even if such portrayals are justified with a libertarian-ish, free-speech ethic, what then should stop a modern-day Diogenes from masturbating in Frist, if “reproductive functions are not taboo, or disgusting…or shameful” (emphasis added)?
Because the arguments in the letter do not thoughtfully address taboos or lay out any sort of criteria for a standard by which we can judge whether or not a taboo should be broken, they leave themselves open to the sort of counter-arguments mentioned above. So, while this letter criticizes Trump for coarsening the public discourse, the authors give no standard by which to try to stop it, and they leave the door open to further abuses.