Last month, New York City passed legislation that would provide free tampons and pads in schools, prisons and shelters – a first in the nation. The decision marked another milestone for the social movement that began to percolate in Nancy Kramer’s mind three decades earlier.
In 1982, Kramer walked into Apple headquarters (she started the marketing firm Resource in 1981 with Apple as her first client) and noticed on the counter in the women’s restroom, tampons and pads — readily available and free.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that makes so much sense,’” she says in a TEDxColumbus talk. “A public restroom that has everything I need as a woman.”
Kramer’s journey from that moment to New York’s historic legislation speaks to the power of spreading ideas.
“To me this is a classic TED story in that to have that [idea] be at the beginning of changing the social norm,” she says. “We’ve come to accept these items are not fully acceptable in women’s restrooms and my argument all along is this is just like toilet paper; this tends to a woman’s normal body functions. She has no control over it.”
Kramer was hooked on TED early on, and eventually became a TEDxColumbus organizer and now sits on the TEDx Council. It was at the TEDxColumbus event in 2013 when she gave her talk, “Free the tampons” that she really saw the movement take shape.
Before giving the talk, Kramer knew she was ready to spearhead a social movement and spent the summer of 2013 researching what it would mean to begin one: conducting and reading research, determining what she would need to do and crafting her TEDx talk. The talk received a lot of positive feedback, although there was a decent amount that was negative.
“I’ve been subjected to some really outrageous comments on things that really aren’t repeatable because they’re very vulgar,” she says. “It seems this topic really generates vulgar responses”
It has also long been a taboo subject for many people and Kramer feels that’s in part because men have no way of understanding what women go through.
“Frankly, men who have been in charge of so many things over the years have absolutely nothing to relate to with this,” she adds. “There’s nothing that a man’s body does that is like this, so it’s hard to comprehend unless we have experienced it and men have nothing they’ve experienced that equals this, so that makes it challenging.”
One man who has been supportive of Kramer from the beginning: her husband. In fact, he secured the domain name “Free the Tampons” for Kramer on her 50th birthday.
“It’s true my husband bought the URL as a birthday present for me,” she said. “He has been a supporter and said, ‘You’ve been advocating this since the ‘80s, I’d love to see you really move forward with this.’ He came up with the name.”
Apart from stigma, another problem Kramer says has been an issue trying to get corporations on board is how to make feminine products accessible.
“One of the obstacles we’ve heard over time is that if people have access to tampons and pads in public space, they’re going to steal them,” she says.
Kramer has been working with the company Hospeco to come up with different versions of vending machines that would provide women with feminine products without the risk of them being stolen.
For Kramer, what happened in New York is only the beginning of what she hopes is a domino effect, eventually seeing free feminine products available across the United States – and the world.
“It really can and should happen,” she says. “For me this is a dream come true, I really did pledge to my daughters that I’m going to work to make this happen before I die, so [June 22] was really a dream come true.”
Watch Kramer’s “Free the Tampon” TEDxColumbus talk below: