How the Arizona Bar Association’s policies discriminated against people with periods

#Bloodybarpocalypse2020

TL/DR: Law students taking the bar exam in certain states have been prohibited from bringing their own menstrual products. Thankfully, these policies are now changing.

In the last three weeks, the trending Twitter hashtag #bloodybarpocalypse forced the Arizona Bar Association to reexamine their policies on menstrual products. 

Each state’s Bar Association typically provides a list of items that are not allowed in testing facilities to prevent cheating. Twitter account @BarExamTracker shared the list of prohibited items for test-takers in Arizona, which included “feminine hygiene products.” The policy also states, “Products will be made available in women’s restrooms.”

After weeks of grueling studies, aspiring lawyers line up dutifully at hotels and convention centers to take the bar exam. The bar exam is split up into three-hour sections, with breaks in between, over the span of two days. It’s hard enough to concentrate on the test as it is, but menstruators face the added worry of taking care of their bodies. 

Commenters in a Reddit thread said that they’ve opted for menstrual cups in place of tampons and pads, or that they plan on switching their products right before the test is administered.

The communal pool of period products available outside of the women’s restroom is problematic because:

  • Everyone has different needs and preferences. Some might be allergic to scented products or products that contain toxic materials. A testing facility might only offer tampons and pads, even though some people prefer menstrual cups and discs.
  • The policy ignores the needs of transgender men and nonbinary people with periods. 
  • A communal pool of products can be a source of outing for trans men and nonbinary people. If a trans man or nonbinary person grabs a pad or a tampon outside of a women’s restroom, it will signal their identity and make them vulnerable to transphobia.
  • The communal pool of period products also puts people at risk for COVID-19 infection.
  • A facility might run out of products. 
  • If period products are not displayed properly, it could cost the test taker precious exam minutes.

On July 20, 3,000 lawyers, law professors, and recent grads signed a letter to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) demanding a “clear, consistent statement that authorizes people to carry and use their own menstrual products while taking the exam in every single state.” 

The inspiring letter used language that is inclusive of trans men and nonbinary people with periods. The letter also states, “targeting only people who menstruate sends a strong — and problematic — message that [they] are untrustworthy.”

In response, The Arizona Bar Association changed its policies to allow test-takers to bring period products in clear bags along with their personal items. This victory is no small feat, but it’s only one step towards equity in standardized professional testing across the board. 

In response to #bloodybarpocalypse, professionals from other fields like medicine, engineering, and public education shared similar stories.

Back in 2015, The ACLU of Texas announced a nation-wide initiative to ensure that nursing mothers have accommodations to step out and breastfeed while taking the exam. Pain and infection can occur when a parent doesn’t follow a pumping schedule, which means that Bar Exam’s policy could put parents’ health at risk. 

The ACLU of Texas states:

“Standardized tests and licensing exams, such as the LSAT, bar exam, and medical boards, serve as important gateways to the professions, and they should be administered in a way that is fair to all test takers, including women who need extra time and a place to pump.”

After 25,000 people signed a petition, the Texas board agreed to change its breastfeeding policies. The action against gender inequity in standard professional testing requires all of us — women, trans men, nonbinary folx, and male allies alike — to get on board.

Aside from the major win of changing testing policies in a few states, #bloodybarpocalypse provided us with unquestionably hilarious period humor. 

Twitter user @LadyLawyerDiary tried to scribble test answers on a tampon, throwing shade at the implication that menstrual products could be perfect hiding places for extra notes. 

A Reddit user asked, “How many cases of cheating have been linked to menstruation?” Another user answered, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer. Let me yoink out my bloody cheat sheet.” 

It’s tiring to keep fighting, day by day, against patriarchal injustices built into our professional systems. But with brilliant co-conspirators like these — from the group of lawyers who drafted the letter to the NCBE, to the 3,000 people who signed the petition, to all folx joining the conversation on different social media platforms, and all the comediennes that lighten the mood — we can trust that change is on the horizon.