Bleed Shamelessly is a Wisconsin based campaign, working to provide accessible menstrual products and cohesive menstrual education. They are currently hosting a COVID-19 virtual campaign with James Madison Memorial High School to work towards gender inclusivity and menstrual equality.
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Alice: Bleed Shamelessly is a Wisconsin based campaign, working to provide accessible menstrual products and cohesive menstrual education. They are currently hosting a COVID-19 virtual campaign with James Madison Memorial High School to work towards gender inclusivity and menstrual equality. We are so excited to welcome them on. Thank you for being here.
Maggie: Thank you for having us.
Anika: Absolutely. It is super cool to be on here.
Alice: Do you guys want to give a short introduction to who you are and your role in the organization?
Maggie: Absolutely. My name is Maggie Di Sanza. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. I am a Junior at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin. I am the founder of Bleed Shamelessly. I have enjoyed working more closely with Anika and Amira in particular during this quarantine even though we have not been socially or physically near each other. We have definitely been working very closely. It has been great.
Anika: Hi, I am Anika. My pronouns are she, her, and hers. I am also a Junior at James Madison Memorial High School with Maggie. I am an organizer with Bleed Shamelessly.
Amira: Hi, name is Amira. My pronouns are she, her, hers, and they. I am a Sophomore at James Madison Memorial High School. I am also an organizer with Bleed Shamelessly. Like Maggie said, it has been fantastic working with these two over COVID. They are both so inspiring.
Alice: Amazing. We will start out with a lightning run. Girls, stargazing or morning walks?
Maggie: Morning walks, I think.
Anika: I am definitely a night owl so I would have to say stargazing.
Amira: Morning walks.
Maggie: Yes, I think Amira and I are both morning people.
Alice: Cool. I am too. Lemonade or iced tea?
Maggie: Iced tea.
Anika: Iced tea. I would have to go with Maggie on that.
Alice: I do not think I could choose. I think I would do half and half. Open waves or rain sounds?
Maggie: Rain sounds all the way.
Anika: Yes, rain sounds all the way.
Alice: Extravagant or minimalist?
Maggie: I try to be minimalist but it is hard in the society we live in.
Anika: I definitely have a lot of clutter more than I would like to say.
Amira: I am with Anika on that one. I say that I am going to organize everything but at the end of the day, it all is just a mess.
Alice: I understand. I live in New York in one small bedroom and it is just piled with things. Pizza or sushi?
Anika: Sushi, hands down.
Maggie: I am going to go with pizza because I am a vegetarian but vegetarian sushi is also great too.
Anika: Japanese is one of my favorite cuisine so definitely sushi.
Alice: Amazing. Can you guys start by talking what is Bleed Shamelessly? Maggie, do you want to start?
Maggie: Bleed Shamelessly is a youth-run campaign and organization that has been working for the past two years to make Dane County and Southern Wisconsin a more menstrually-equitable place. What that means is we engage in educational activities, service, community outreach, and also legislative change.
We have done presentations and made sure to educate our community about what menstruation is on one hand but also how we can respect all menstruating people. We have worked with legislators trying to abolish the tampon tax and make menstrual products more accessible. During this quarantine, we have worked towards service which is getting patent tampons and all menstrual products out there to the people in the community who need them.
Alice: Wow. That is incredible. How did you end up starting Bleed Shamelessly? You said it is a two years old organization.
Maggie: In Madison, we have a ton of really cool opportunities for youth who are interested in organizing and activism. I actually joined a camp called Rise Up and Write. I was super into activism and feminism and I love writing too so that was everything that I wanted in one activity.
I met some really awesome youth who were also starting projects from immigrant rights to body positivity and worked with some educators in the community. Some were professors at UW Madison and others were Writing teachers. We started our own campaigns and I just ran with it even after Rise Up and Write. Now, we are here.
Alice: Wow. That is amazing. How did that go from writing to menstrual equality? Was that something that you were focusing on at this camp?
Maggie: At the camp, we were told to choose an issue that we felt passionate about and felt represented, what we wanted to specifically work on in terms of change and progress in our community. It was hard for me because I am really invested in all things related to social justice. I was looking at reproductive justice and reproductive rights as a sector of that and I thought how little our culture talks about menstruation.
Then, I learned more about how we can incorporate writing and the written language into our activism. I learned how crucial writing op-eds and letters is. Communicating with people even in just an email is so vital to organizing and making change.
Alice: Wow. Amira and Anika, you guys are both organizers in the organization. Can you talk about that? How did you guys first get involved with Maggie and Bleed Shamelessly?
Anika: Maggie actually reached out to me and asked if I would like to participate in the organization. It has truly been an incredible opportunity to get to work with her and Bleed Shamelessly. It really helped contribute to some of the great work Bleed Shamelessly is doing in that community to help raise awareness about menstrual equity and destigmatize the conversation regarding periods.
Alice: Amira, how did you get involved?
Amira: Last year, I was a freshperson at my High School and I joined the Women’s Club. We were doing presentations on mental equity to a bunch of the History classes during the Human Rights week. Maggie at the end of it was like, “Oh, people are interested in doing more. I run this organization called Bleed Shamelessly.” I was like, “You are one year older than me and you are doing what?” This year, I joined and it has just been absolutely fantastic.
Alice: Wow. You have also been working with the community during COVID when your High School is shut down. What have you guys been doing with that? How have you been getting the word out while stuck at home?
Anika: We have been using social media a lot as a tool to help communicate what is happening, where our drop-off centers are, and helping raise awareness about GoFundMe.
We have also been going on a lot of different new sites and having a lot of conversations with people in our community. We are helping raise awareness about what we are doing to help spread our efforts across Dane County which is where we live.
Alice: What exactly are you guys doing? Are you giving menstrual projects to those in need? Is that what I am understanding?
Amira: We have been reaching out to clinics, shelters, and other areas that give back to the community. We are saying, “Hey, do you need menstrual products? If so, what would you like? Do you like them in bulk or would you like us to make packs?
We use data from the Period Movement organization which was co-founded by Nadya Okamoto, which says that the average menstruator will use about nine tampons and six pads over one menstrual cycle. We have lots of tampons and pads checked into our houses. We put on a mask and the gloves, pack them, and then deliver them to the shelters.
Maggie: So far, we have distributed over 2,700 menstrual packs or the equivalent of that in bulk across eleven different shelters and food pantries in Southern Wisconsin. We are only adding more to the list. We are not slowing down.
Alice: That is amazing. Do you get people to donate from within the community?
Anika: One of our major sources of getting pads and tampons is from our GoFundMe but we have also accepted donations. We have to be careful about that because of COVID and we want to ensure that we are not putting any of the menstruators at risk. Usually, we just source and buy directly from our producers but we do accept donations sometimes from the community. We just have to be careful to ensure that they are totally safe.
Alice: That makes sense. You have also mentioned within your mission about helping with period poverty. Can you tell our listeners what that is? What can we be doing to help?
Maggie: Period poverty is basically the phenomenon that menstruation, a natural bodily process that nearly over half of the population experiences, debilitate someone economically and ultimately career-wise and politically. A lot of people, be it economic instability, other responsibilities, not having access to menstrual products at work or at school, often are unable to get the products that they need to be successful and productive in our society. That hinders people from going to school and ultimately work and can really put a huge damper on someone’s life not just career-wise and educationally but also health-wise. When people do not have access to sanitary menstrual products, it can force them to use things like cloth pads, old clothes, rags, cardboard, and different things which is obviously super unhealthy for our reproductive systems and can lead to toxic shock syndrome, infertility, and a whole bunch of other infections that are incredibly debilitating for people.
Alice: Wow. What are ways that we can help if we are not in Wisconsin and if we are not in your county? What can we do to help with period poverty?
Amira: The first thing that you can do is check to see what laws are in your state. The vast majority of states have a form of what is called the tampon tax. It is a tax on tampons and other menstrual products as luxury item alongside chocolate or alcohol whereas, products such as Viagra are deemed a necessity.
If you do find that your state has a lot like this, there are many petitions that you can sign saying, “I want my legislators to look into abolishing the tampon tax because that is a huge part of the economic burden on menstruators.” Another thing you can do is push legislators to pass laws that put free pads and tampons in all state-funded buildings such as your state capital and public schools. It should not just be in the women’s restrooms but also in the gender-neutral restrooms, men’s restrooms for trans, and gender-expansive menstruators.
Next, you can help support menstruators on the local level by donating period products to schools which often do not have enough, shelters, and clinics. Menstrual products are one of the most needed products in shelters but the least donated.
Anika: To add to that, I think it is really important that we talk about menstruation and destigmatize the issue because one of the major reasons that we have all these barriers to accessing safe and healthy menstrual products is because the issue is so heavily stigmatized in our society.
You can talk about it with your friends, peers, educators, and the people who are responsible for teaching you what your period is at a young age. I think it is really important that we talk about our periods and normalize the fact that it is a biological function. It is not something that we can ignore.
Alice: Anika, I think that is awesome. Something that we are trying to do with this podcast is open the conversation as to anything that we, as women or any female identifying person, want to talk about. So, thank you guys.
Alice: There is something that you brought up Amira that I would like to ask you guys about. Part of your mission is to talk about all the different ways people can have periods. Can you talk about how periods extend beyond the gender female?
Amira: Definitely. My gender is non-binary and I menstruate. One of the stigmas and stereotypes around menstruation is that, only women can menstruate and women have to menstruate. This comes from this idea of not even thinking about trans menstruators.
When trans people are thought about, often the dots are connected that if they have a functioning healthy reproductive system, they will menstruate as well. The idea that all women menstruate and that all menstruators are women is really stigmatizing. For trans women who may be intersex or male, they will never be taken as what culturally symbolize as ‘coming into womanhood’. It is really dysphoric for a lot of people. On the other hand, for gender-expansive, non-binary, and trans menstruators, your period can be a reminder of what society is saying. That you are a woman. You have to be a woman. You are a woman because you menstruate and nothing else matters.
When these topics are not talked about, then we start to see gaps in our legislature and in community action. When we are pushing for menstrual products to be put in schools, are we making sure that we are also asking for menstrual products to be put in the men’s and gender-neutral restrooms? When we talk about menstrual products, are we using the word ‘feminine’, alienating folk who identify as masculine, androgynous, or not women? It is these little things which may not seem like much but when they compound one on top of the other, we see this huge and vast system of equities where menstruators who are gender-expansive, trans, or non-binary just slip through the cracks. Trans women are just told that they have to have a period if they are to be women.
Another part of this is that not all female, women, and transgender women are menstruator if you think about women who have reached menopause or some women and females will not have menstruation for another reason.
Alice: Thank you so much for getting into that. I know that it is something that we do not really talk about. How does Bleed Shamelessly open up that conversation? How are you bringing it out into the communities of Madison?
Maggie: One of the things that we really want to bring to light, just like Amira said, is that the trans, gender-expansive, and non-binary people are menstruating in our communities. They feel all the similar symptoms and experience menstruation just like any other menstruating person does and it does not make them any less of their identity.
Just like transwomen, people who identify as women but may not menstruate does not make them any less of a woman for not menstruating. Just bringing that out into the community, having conversations about it, ensuring that when we are talking about menstrually-equitable policy and legislation, we are making sure that it is trans-inclusive. All of those things just like getting products in men’s and gender-neutral restrooms as well. Just making sure that we are always keeping it in the back of our minds whenever we are talking about menstrual equity.
Alice: Thank you so much. Can you guys talk about what is happening in Wisconsin now? We are seeing a lot of unrest throughout our whole country this week. Is that happening in Madison? Are you guys participating in the protest?
Anika: In Downtown Madison, there was a protest this Saturday and they have been going on throughout the week. The protest did result in riots and looting. I think it is really important to be mindful of the fact that stories can be rebuilt but lives cannot. I think it is really important just to keep in our mind as we talk about all these issues.