This month, a Texas rule mandating that fetal remains be buried or cremated will go into effect. Opponents have proposed voicing their dissent by sending used tampons and sanitary pads to Governor Greg Abbott in the mail. Despite no evidence that anybody has actually done this, the fact that some have been discussing doing it has gone viral.
This is far from the first time that proponents of a liberal cause have attempted to troll conservative foes with a crude, albeit apt, troll. But, as we sit on the cusp of an era of indeterminate length, when liberals and progressives have few strongholds at any level of government, is it time to switch to something less crass? Something, perhaps, with slightly more than a snowball’s chance in hell of changing anybody’s mind?
Supporters of abortion rights have reason to be incensed by the Texas rule. It was conceived (pun intended) by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission this summer, shortly after the state’s restrictive law targeting abortion providers was struck down by the Supreme Court, and proposed by the staunchly pro-life Abbott. It experienced no resistance from the GOP-led legislature. The rule was debated at a contentious hearing in August and quietly enacted.
Upon the rule’s passage, dissenters encouraged traditional means of protest—letter writing, phone calling, local organizing, adamant frowning. But one Facebook post encouraged something a little more visceral: sending Governor Abbott bloodied tampons in the mail. The point of the theoretical protest was to emphasize that because many miscarriages take place early in pregnancy, every time a sexually active woman menstruates without a “fertilization check,” she might actually be breaking Texas state law. Ergo, box full of blood to the governor.
There are benefits to this method of protest. In this case, the proposed send-a-tampon protest raises awareness of a rule that was passed with little chance for the public to object. It also points out that Governor Abbott is making decisions about women’s health while knowing very little about women’s health. Plus, imagining one’s enemies receiving a used tampon in the mail is, on a base level, extremely satisfying. There’s something cathartic about telling an enemy they’re stupid and wrong.
Invoking menstruation in protest against laws governing women’s health is not unprecedented. When Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a similar law in Indiana in March, a movement called Periods for Pence encouraged women to call the governor’s office and provide updates to whoever answered the phone on their menstrual cycles. In 2014, Australian women protested the treatment of menstruating refugees by encouraging supporters to send unused tampons to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office.
But when that enemy has power over you, catharsis isn’t necessarily practical.
First, it’s not clear that anybody has actually followed through on the suggestion that opponents of the Texas law should package up a used Kotex, address it to the governor’s mansion in Austin, and place it in U.S. mail. It’s actually not legal to send human tissue through the mail unless it’s properly packaged and labeled as such, which would kind of spoil the surprise. It’s also not clear who would face the brunt of the punishment if anybody successfully sent an improperly-packaged bloody tampon. Would a U.S. mail employee be the one to open the box? Would a low-level staffer charged with inspecting incoming mail be the one to make the unfortunate discovery? Would it be Greg Abbott’s administrative assistant? It seems like a lot of trouble to go through for something that probably wouldn’t even reach its intended recipient and could result in legal problems for the sender. The Daily Beast has asked Governor Abbott’s office if he’s received any tampons in the mail lately, and will update when we hear back.
Second, this is an example of awareness-raising that might be raising the wrong kind of awareness. It’s one thing to keep supporters of one’s cause fired up and engaged; it’s another to alienate potential allies by resorting to protest methods that people might find more distasteful than the law itself. One pro-life site covered the protest in depth, calling the protest “immature” and comparing it to another protest wherein satanists suggested sending semen-soaked socks to government officials. Last year, a Gallup poll found that for the first time in over a decade, most Americans are pro-choice. The last thing the cause needs in light of this fragile little victory is for middle America to see abortion rights wrapped up with illegal activity and satanism.
It’s not clear that menstrual boat-rocking works to change elected officials’ minds, either. While Periods for Pence enjoyed the support of 70,000 Facebook fans at one point, the law Pence signed didn’t stall because of all the calls to his office. It was halted by a court order. And some of Abbott’s previous attempts to spin move around Roe with half-baked schemes wrapped in mawkish language about women’s health have met similar fates at the hands of the judicial system. Not at the hands of mass deployment of snark.
Abbott, Pence, and their ilk are true believers in the pro-life cause; they’re not going to be swayed by a period joke, not matter how darkly funny; Jesus Christ himself could glide down from heaven on a rainbow and have difficulty persuading a middle-aged man entrenched in his abortion worldview. Supporters of choice are more likely to find legislative success by persuading their centrist friends and neighbors to view their side compassionately; they’re more likely to get results by replacing local and state politicians than they are convincing those with extreme views to change theirs.
Nobody likes to be told to play nice, or to dial down their anger. But anger can’t be all a cause relies on when their side has dwindling power. On November 8, progressives lost. They lost the White House. They lost statehouses. Congress, the Senate, lost, lost. The Supreme Court, barring a Chicxulub crater-sized asteroid striking and putting this world out of its misery or Ruth Bader Ginsburg discovering a life elixir, will likely be lost in the very near future.
The people who joined Pantsuit Nation facebook groups and hashtagged #NotMyPresident as hard as they possibly could, the people who made signs and took to the streets on November 9 and 10 are not people who the anti-abortion rights people in charge need to appease. Republicans, from Trump on down, won without progressives, and Trump’s cruel streak doesn’t bode well for those who would troll him or his allies. If abortion rights supporters want to minimize the ground they lose over the next four years, it’s time they get craftier, play a longer game, and resist the urge to seek gleeful gratification at the expense of meaningful progress.