Every January 1st, writer-attorney Jennifer Weiss-Wolf jumps into the Atlantic Ocean in a ritual sponsored by Brooklyn’s Coney Island Polar Bear Club. “The camaraderie is almost inexplicable,” she writes in the Introduction to Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity (Arcade Publishing, 2017). “People think it’s crazy. And maybe it is. But it’s actually a very proactive, symbolic way to set an intention and direction for the remaining 364 days of the year.”
Such plans, of course, are all well and good, at least until serendipity enters the mix.
To wit: Three years ago, a few hours after Weiss-Wolf’s 2015 New Year’s Day plunge, she found her gaze turning in an unexpected direction. The reason? An email seeking donations of tampons and sanitary pads for distribution at a local food pantry.
“I was immediately captivated and curious—and honestly, even mildly ashamed, that I’d never, ever, considered this before,” she wrote. “A self-aware, self-professed feminist, I’d marched on Washington, volunteered as a rape crisis advocate and abortion clinic escort, and worked professionally as a lawyer and writer for social justice organizations. How had I managed to completely overlook this most basic issue?”
That question precipitated an avalanche of others and, in short order, Weiss-Wolf was investigating why millions of women throughout the world—in places like Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda and the United States of America—often lack access to an adequate supply of pads and tampons.
Weiss-Wolf sat down with Eleanor J. Bader to discuss her work on a cold, mid-March Monday. The interview took place in Weiss-Wolf’s office at the Brennan Center for Justice, where she is Vice President for Development.