Is that a tampon in your purse, or are you just happy to see me?

BlogHer Original Post

I've been thinking a lot about public school, lately. I happen to be a proponent of public schools; I have this crazy idea that since my tax dollars are funding it, I should be able to feel good about educating my children there. And while I know that there are problems in most public schools, I generally stand by my decision to get involved, pay attention, and then let my kids go.

My decision has been a little shaken here and there, over the years. Certainly there are things that happen that make me wonder if public school is really the way to go, and I try to work through those issues as they crop up. Why, just yesterday my children's bus disappeared for about an hour. (That's a different story for a different time.) But what's happening at Tri-County High School in Sullivan County puts any of my recent concerns into perspective.

Allow me to summarize: The school has banned bags in the hallways "for security reasons," and so a 14-year-old girl carrying a purse was told by a security officer that she was not allowed to have that purse unless she was menstruating. And then he asked her if she was having her period. Naturally. After it became clear that multiple females were being quizzed on their cycles (you know, because of the bag thing, which was totally about safety), students started wearing tampons and sanitary napkins on their bodies in various ways in protest.

I really didn't even know where to begin with this, but fortunately Rachel over at Women's Health News did:

Holy inappropriate question, Batman. I suppose that menstruating teens are somehow cosmically prevented from carrying weapons (or menstruation is so shameful and embarrassing as to trump security concerns), periods are totally predictable at a young age and so bag-carrying can be well-planned, and it’s totally appropriate for a male security guard to grill a young girl about what may or may not be coming out of her vagina. Or, you know, not.

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If you blink, the issue of school safety somehow becomes entangled in... what, exactly? The school's right to ask prying health questions? The school's need to know when its students are in need of feminine sanitary supplies? I don't know about you, but when I decided to have my children attend a public school, it never even crossed my mind to wonder if my daughter will be grilled on her menstrual cycle. Silly me!

St. Emma of the Chemicals says she's glad she's not in high school anymore:

The student response has been refreshing: girls are now carrying purses made out of tampon boxes, and boys are sticking maxipads to their shirts. After hearing rumours that one of the protesters was suspended from school, one student went to speak to the principal, who confiscated her protest jewelry and told her that she was "part of the problem."

Which begs the question: what is the problem? Girls who dare to menstruate during school hours? Girls who object to telling some skeevy rent-a-cop whether or not they're on the rag? Students who are both saner and more sensible than the adults who have been entrusted with their care? Adults who make stupid rules without stopping to consider what happens when those rules are carried to their logical conclusion, and then get upset at the negative consequences of those rules being carried to their logical conclusion?

One can only hope that the media attention being paid to this debacle will force the resignation of the principal and the security guard in question, and that neither of them are placed in a position of authority over teenage girls ever again.

Over at Bitchin' from the Kitchen, the disgust is palpable:

Of course, regardless of whether the question is embarrassing the women at this high school, it is sexual discrimination. It’s not as if they’re asking boys, “Are you wearing jeans with large pockets because you’re expecting to have a seminal discharge today?” That and the boys aren’t permitted to carry purses, of course. And finally, how the hell does a woman saying she’s got her period verify in any way that she is not carrying a handgun in her Louis Vuitton? Real smart, Sullivan County.

Now, I know it would be easy to classify this debacle as a "feminist issue," (yes, there's good commentary over at feministing, too), and while it absolutely is a feminist issue, it's also a mommy/family issue because this is happening to our children in a public school. And do you want to know what disturbs me most of all about this story?

Although I was able to find ample news coverage, and a fair amount of blog chatter, I was unable to find anything indicating that parents are taking action here. Sure, there's a couple of quotes from the parents of the girl named in the original story. But where is the outrage from parents standing up and saying that they refuse to have their children treated this way in school? Are the parents in agreement with the no-backpacks policy? (And if so, is it because there have been violence issues at this particular school or are they just fearful of possible violence?) Do the parents think the kids are overreacting?

I don't know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that I'm a parent and if this happened where my children go to school, I would be on my feet. This shouldn't happen to women anywhere, but it especially shouldn't be happening to minors in schools funded with tax money. I hope that the parents of the kids at Tri-County are not just standing up with their children, but fighting on their behalf. And I'm not talking about wearing tampon jewelry -- I'm talking about sending a message, loud and clear, that this treatment of our children will not be tolerated.

Menstruation is natural. Having school officials quiz our daughters about it is not.

Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Cornered Office, as well as sharing the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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