Female secondary sex characteristics are used for marketing everything from cars and motorcycles to hardware and even food. Those same characteristics are treated with shame when used for their natural purpose in public.
It’s no surprise, in this culture, that few people who reach out to help the needy would think specifically about feminine needs. But one young woman did just that and The Feminine Project was born.
Tessa Mathews is a 22-year-old who grew up in Roswell, in middle-class comfort. She was raised to take care of herself and to care for others. Her natural empathy was nurtured and supported, and she is now making a formidable servant of humankind of herself.
“There was a woman in her early 20s standing at Walmart with a sign,” Mathews said. “I felt I should ask her if she needed feminine hygiene products. She looked so relieved when I asked, that I told her I’d be right back. I live nearby so I ran home, grabbed a bag and brought it back to her. I put in half pads and half tampons and I put my phone number in the bag as well. I told her, ‘I know you’re on the road, but if you need more let me know.’”
The Feminine Project will be offering feminine hygiene products and education for the underprivileged next month.
“Aug. 9 at the unity center from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” Mathews said. “I will be there all day. We’ll have bags filled with feminine wipes, tampons and pads for whoever needs them. I especially want to get the word out to teenage girls whose parents might not be able to afford them.
“I really appreciate the Unity Center being so kind about letting The Feminine Project present there.”
Like any non-profit, The Feminine Project depends on donations. They are grateful for unopened packages of tampons and pads, but there are other things they need, too.
“Ph balanced wipes help prevent infection,” she said. “We need these most. We also need menstrual cups. I want to print brochures to educate girls about feminine hygiene. I need to raise funds to pay for them.”
Mathews intends to equip each woman she helps with the supplies to get through a typical month.
“If a woman uses five tampons a day seven days a week, that’s 35 a period. I’ll put 36 in each bag along with one pack of wipes. If they want a menstrual cup I’ll put one in as well.”
Menstrual cups are not as well known as their counterparts, the tampon or the pad. They can be a unique blessing for a woman in need.
“For homeless women, and those who just can’t afford to buy supplies all the time, a cup can be a great answer. After each use, they can rinse the silicone cup out and it’s ready to use again.”
Currently supplying needed materials is her primary focus, and it will always be a major part of The Feminine Project, but education is something she sees as growing until it has filled the needs of all Roswell area women.
“I want to host a seminar about the importance of being clean,” Mathews said, “and about ending the stigma. We have to create dialogue. I hope to see events where there are groups of women and teen girls, a sisterhood with a safe space to talk openly. I’m hanging out posters and sharing information on Facebook.”
As important as education is, empowerment involves having the needs met as well as fostering healthy dialogue.
“A lot of girls miss school because they have no way to take care of these needs,” Mathews said. “Some women miss work because of it. Getting these to teen girls in our community who need them is very important to me.”
Mathews is keeping an eye to the future, planning to continue making a difference in women’s lives for some time to come. She will need some guidance to get through some of the legal hoops, however.
“I’m thinking about having drop off points where a few bags can be kept for women in need,” Mathews said. “I have to be careful about the legalities and liabilities of it.”
Mathews sees a big part of The Feminine Project’s work as unifying women around the idea of self-care and self-esteem.
“We don’t want to talk about women’s bodies unless we sexualize them,” Mathews said, “but menstrual cycles are part of life. I want to teach young girls to not be ashamed of natural processes. I want it to be normalized. Also, I want the girls to look out for one another. Spreading the word is important. Junior high, high school, even college; keep your eyes open and look for women who might be having a hard time so you can tell them about the Feminine Project.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.