I am a 39-year-old man, and I just bought my first box of tampons. Sarah Ginsberg* told me to buy them. I am an acupuncturist in Los Angeles who owns a busy practice, and she has been my patient for close to ten years, long enough to also become a friend. About a year ago, on her way out the door, she casually dropped, "You know, you should really have tampons for your patients." I sort of pretended not to hear. She persisted: "No, for real. You really can't consider yourself a female-friendly health-care provider if you don't have tampons in the bathroom."
My gut reaction was one part "One more thing to buy" with a hint of "She's kidding, right?" This, of course, is unbecoming of a health-care worker and totally unbecoming of a progressive health-care worker invested in understanding and treating issues related to women's health. I am not one of those guys who are squeamish about periods. On the contrary, I can often be found talking to a total stranger about her polycystic ovary syndrome by the chocolate fountain at a wedding. I know more about most of my female patients' anatomy than their spouses. I was raised by two pre-Ellen lesbian moms, wrote a fifth-grade history report on the Seneca Falls Convention, and attended all three original Lilith Fairs (even doing a meet-and-greet with Sarah McLachlan). I am often the person very outraged about women's-rights news that everyone else seems just normal outraged about.
But to suddenly imagine myself strolling down the female-care aisle price-checking Diva Cups seemed, like, a lot. But I also knew Sarah Ginsberg was right. She came back a few months later. "Where are the tampons, Russell?" I panicked like an idiot on Two and a Half Men: "I wouldn't even know what kind or brand to get! I don't feel qualified to be making these purchases!" She suggested Tampax and then offered to bring me an empty basket to fill. I insisted that I didn't have any available shelves for a basket.
If you're a man who presides over a public bathroom, put tampons in it.
A couple of months passed, and Sarah Ginsberg was back. Now she was mad: "Seriously, where are the fucking tampons?" I was out of excuses. Why wasn't I buying the tampons? I had to consider that even though I knew better, I was still participating in the misogyny that says menstruation is a "hushed hygiene secret" that should be managed in the shadow of a woman's pocketbook. It's the sexism that dictates that a woman's body is her problem and there's a limit to how much men are responsible. It's what Republican representative John Shimkus of Illinois argued during a March debate on his party's health-care plan. He insisted that men shouldn't have to pay into medical-insurance policies that cover prenatal care, suggesting that prenatal care should only be paid for by women because pregnancy is a condition which only happens to women — and I was really pissed off when I read about him. It was so clearly a consequential version of the "I'm on a diet, so no one should have doughnuts" bullshit that would annoy the fuck out of me if it were directed at me, and yet here I was being like, "I don't have a shelf." I got it.
The female body is not a hygiene secret. Menstruation is a standard body function that comes with standard body needs. Offering tampons helps to normalize the female body and says they should be a part of "the kit" of bathroom goods that are comfortably, unexceptionally available without a second thought — Kleenex, Band-Aids, toilet paper, hand soap, tampons. It's basic operating requirements for the human body.
I bought tampons. The feminine-hygiene aisle was as daunting as I feared: I was dazzled and disoriented by the colors, and brands, and fonts. But ultimately I selected the brand I was most familiar and therefore "trusted," in the similarly undramatic fashion with which I select a brand of spaghetti. I presented my purchase to the woman at the register like a prized Christmas ham and attempted to bond with her over my outrage that "we" should have to pay sales tax on these medical necessities. She cracked her gum and looked away.
The Sarah Ginsberg Emergency-Tampon Annex is now open under the sink in my clinic. My female patients are pleased, and I think Sarah Ginsberg herself is tickled by it. She's a living legend in my office now and taught me a good lesson: if you're a man who presides over a public bathroom, put tampons in it, or think about why you're not and then explain it to a woman.
*Name changed to protect the menstruating.
Russell Brown is an acupuncturist and owner of POKE Acupuncture in Los Angeles who once attempted to host a Nicole Holofcener–themed birthday party.