Zibby is joined by best-selling author and journalist Anita Diamant to discuss her latest nonfiction book, Period. End of Sentence., and the fight for menstrual justice. Anita explains how this book —which grew out of the Academy Award-winning documentary of the same name— feels like a culmination of her work as a columnist and novelist, and offers action steps we can all take to help combat period poverty both at home and around the world.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Anita. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Period. End of Sentence. and The Red Tent and all the amazing things that you’ve written and done and all of it.

Anita Diamant: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Zibby: Your latest book, Period. End of Sentence.: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual Justice, I know this was based on the documentary which won the Oscar. I actually started watching a bit of it just to see what it was all about. I definitely remember when it won the Oscar. Tell me how that became this book.

Anita: I watched the Oscars. I remember jumping off the couch when they won. I thought, wow. I watched the documentary the next day. It’s on Netflix. I think it’s now on YouTube for people who want to watch it. I was very impressed. I had written about menstrual justice issues a little bit as a columnist, so it’s a topic I was familiar with. Then I got a phone call from my agent saying that the people who had done the film were interested in having a book done not about the same thing exactly, but in tandem, inspired by. I said I’d be interested in talking about it. I signed on. That’s what kept me busy, thank god, through all of COVID.

Zibby: Wow. Had you already begun? What was the timing like?

Anita: I had begun, but really, one of my editors said gathering string, just really trying to figure out what the scope of it was, which is gigantic. Then COVID shut everything down. Any thoughts of traveling or doing a lot of in-person interviews went out the window. This was very much an internet and on-the-phone research book. I’m glad I had it to do. I don’t know what I would’ve done with myself otherwise.

Zibby: I’m sure you would’ve figured something out.

Anita: I’m not good at that.

Zibby: I don’t know. You’ve written so many books. I know you start this book by saying that so many people, after The Red Tent came out, which by the way, I read and loved at the time, so hats off to you for that project, had said to you they wished they had a red tent. They wished they had a place where they could go and honor the rhythms of their own body and just take a time-out, if you will. Of course, nothing slows us down, barely even childbirth these days, honestly. I’m like, does anything slow down when you have kids? Not really. The emails don’t stop. Tell me about the feedback you got from that and how that has dovetailed into this project.

Anita: I was always a little taken aback by people saying, I wish I had a red tent. It immediately thought to me that was like going back in time. I invented that red tent. That’s not based on historical, archaeological fact. It’s possible. It’s not impossible. I invented the way it happened and what happened inside and the red tent and all that. Nostalgia for the ancient past gives the creeps, to be honest. Any time before anesthesia and literacy and antibiotics does not appeal to me, or my choices. I’m not really willing to give up any of my choices. I think I said in the book that after doing all of this research, I realized it wasn’t so much the literal tent. Although, people were kind of joking about they wished they had a place they could go. It was really about wishing there was a more underlying desire for a way to honor the body and to acknowledge that people with uteruses have different needs. They are ignored, not acknowledged. We don’t either, acknowledge them. We have no method for doing that, nor do we really have the language to do that in a way that’s meaningful. I’ve sort of come around to understanding what that desire means. I don’t jump on people anymore.

Zibby: That’s good, I guess.

Anita: I didn’t jump on them.

Zibby: No, I’m kidding.

Anita: I would make a joke out of it. I don’t want to live in a time before — I would’ve been dead in the red tent giving birth to my daughter when I gave birth to her. No nostalgia for that, nor is there nostalgia for us in Western civilization for such a place because in our cultures, and not just Western, but in some Eastern traditions as well, there was no honoring the rhythms of the body that bleeds.

Zibby: I was really struck in the book that you said, I think the statistic was something like eight hundred million people are menstruating at any given time right now. Yet there is such a stigma still attached and a whole shameful element to it. Even in the documentary, girls are giggling and not willing to talk about it. It goes into much more dire issues that happen as a result of having your period and menstruating or whatever you want to call it.

Anita: Both.

Zibby: Both. I know you tackled why it’s shameful given that half the population, basically, has this happen. What’s the two-second root of that? Give us the headline of, why is this such a big deal? Obviously — well, I shouldn’t say obviously anything. Why did this become such a big deal in our culture, or in the world, really?

Anita: Misogyny, patriarchy, those are the big words that cover a lot of theories and a lot of religious traditions and a lot of distrust and ignorance, actually, of what’s happening in the body. Menstruation is called the curse still. Although, not so much in polite society. When you say the curse, you’re not talking about anything except menstruation. If you say the curse, that means the people who are bleeding, who have periods are cursed in some way, and people who are cursed are a danger. This is very subconscious. People aren’t going around, ooh, she’s cursed. If I go near her, my hands will wither. That is part of our Western tradition. Actually, it’s not so old and ancient. A friend of mine told me that her grandmother told her that if she took a shower while she was menstruating, she would never have a baby. That’s not so far. It’s the twentieth century in America. It’s not a global south problem. It’s not a problem of over there and out there. The way we think about how women’s reproductive systems work is with disdain, ignorance, discomfort, at the very least. People suffer as a result of that, sometimes in ways that are manageable and sometimes in ways that are really not manageable.

Zibby: Especially, as you mention, the poverty project, period poverty rather, the one quote you had from a woman who said she was using a towel because they couldn’t afford pads. It’s hard to imagine the scope of it globally when you think about it. Also, what we all can do individually and as a society to help out people who are still struggling with that.

Anita: There are efforts on every possible level from high school girls collecting products to give to their local shelter and to the local food pantry where these products are always in demand and there are never enough of them, to, recently, Vermont, for example, just in the last week got rid of the sales tax on period products. It’s often called the tampon tax, but that’s a misnomer. Every state, in many cities, charge sales tax. They decide what they’re going to charge it on. In a lot of states, Viagra is not taxed. In Louisiana, Mardi Gras beads are not taxed, but tampons and pads are taxed. They’re taxed as luxuries. It’s not necessities. We have to stop thinking about period products as optional. It’s not something you just are, on a whim, oh, I think I’ll buy some tampons today. I haven’t bought any in a while. The cupboard is bare. You only buy them if you need them, so it’s necessity. They should be in every single bathroom wherever you go. People who are listening, whenever you go into the bathroom in your library or your supermarket or your art museum or your best friend’s bathroom, you should be looking for period products to see if they’re there. Once you start putting that on your radar screen, you realize they’re not there. There’s toilet paper. We’re not walking around with toilet paper or paper towels to dry our hands. This is considered your problem, your issue. If you run out, it’s your problem.

Zibby: For people who feel inspired to help solve this problem, what would you recommend they do?

Anita: Lots of things. Actually, when I started working on this, I went to a local art museum. In the ladies’ room, there were baskets, one with pads and one with tampons. I thought, wow. Then I realized I didn’t have any on the vanity in my bathroom when I have guests. While I have very few people who visit me who use my bathroom who need them, the idea of putting them out there, I hope, inspires other people to do that as well so that we normalize — this is on a very microlevel — that we normalize the fact that half of the world at some point in their lives is going to have a period and they’re going to need stuff. We should be supplying them just as we supply toilet paper. That’s one thing you can do. Another thing you can do is support programs in your own city that supply products to people in need.

You can support legislative efforts, which are happening everywhere, to get rid of sales tax on these products. The Boston area, the Massachusetts legislature is considering a law to make sure that there are period products in all the schools, in every public school. I think you can mandate them in private schools as well. That means that a kid who needs a product and finds herself without something in the bathroom doesn’t have to stuff toilet paper down her pants and panic, nor does that person have to ask for a pass to go to the nurse, which sort of medicalizes this problem. Also, what if the nurse doesn’t have any? You know what? If the nurse has them, she bought them because it’s not on the budget in school. There are lots of things we can do as individuals, as citizens. We can support programs like the Pad Project which is working to provide products and also education and also legislative change all over the world including in the United States. There’s lots we can do as individuals and as groups of mothers and just groups of people as well. Once you get sensitized to it, you’re going to find it in the newspaper all the time. You’re going to hear stories about this all the time.

Zibby: How did you become a writer? You’ve written a memoir, which is a collection of essays. You’ve written books like this. You’ve written historical fiction. Even though you made it up, I guess it’s still historical fiction.

Anita: All historical fiction is made up.

Zibby: All historical fiction is made up. I know. Okay, that was a stupid thing to say. I take it back. I delete it.

Anita: No, no, no.

Zibby: I was just thinking, you were saying how you had totally made up The Red Tent, so does that still count? Yes, it counts.

Anita: It says “a novel” on the front. This is not history.

Zibby: Yes, of course, and other novels as well. I have The Boston Girl. I had read — what was the one about — The Girls Come Home? Oh, my gosh, I’m blanking on this title. I was looking at all your books. I was like, oh, I totally read that book too. I didn’t even realize it had been written .

Anita: There’s Day After Night. There’s Last Days of Dogtown and Good Harbor. There are five novels.

Zibby: It was Day After Night, and of course, all these Jewish books. I have had now, two Jewish weddings. In fact, my second husband converted to Judaism. I was really interested in the mikvah organization you started because I went to his mikvah, by the way, in New York City. I just wanted to know how you got started, how you used your Jewish identity to write a bunch of Jewish-themed books and just writing in general. That was a big question, but take it where you want.

Anita: Let’s see. I was an English major, comp lit and English. When I moved to Boston after graduate school, I kind of fell in journalism. It wasn’t a goal. I had never taken a journalism class. I’d never taken a creative writing class. I wrote a lot of papers. I learned to do journalism on the job. I wrote a lot of long-form journalism, which are storytellings about a topic. I really loved it. I loved writing for the public. I loved having an audience. I wanted to be an actress when I grew up, so I needed an audience. This is my audience. My first book was The New Jewish Wedding, actually, because when I was getting married, I couldn’t find a book that answered my questions. The books that existed were by orthodox rabbis or by etiquette ladies, how to match the tablecloth with matchbooks. Remember when there were matchbooks? Maybe you’re too young to remember when there were matchbooks.

Zibby: I remember very well, yes.

Anita: No more matchbooks. What I was learning about Jewish traditions that people were reclaiming from the past and making them contemporary were really beautiful and inspiring. That was my first book. It was a nonfiction guide for contemporary people like me and my friends who didn’t necessarily know a whole lot about their Jewish background, their Jewish tradition. Actually, most of us don’t know anything about lifecycle events until it’s our turn. That was my first book. Then I wrote a second book because I had a baby girl. There were really no books about how to celebrate the arrival of a Jewish daughter with the same kind of tradition and intention as given a boy. My friends who were having boys and were having brises didn’t understand why. How could they make this meaningful? Then I said, no more Jewish books, I don’t want to be typecast, but then I wrote Living a Jewish Life and Choosing a Jewish Life, which is about conversion, How to Raise a Jewish Child and Saying Kaddish, which is about death and mourning practices. Now I’m done, finished. There’s nothing else in that department. Although, I’ve updated them. I’ve updated the wedding book twice.

Zibby: You should’ve done a book on bar mitzvahs.

Anita: You don’t need a whole book. There’s stuff on that. I think that’s up to individuals, in a way, how they celebrate that. It’s complicated. I mention it in How to Raise a Jewish Child and Living a Jewish Life as well. It’s part of the lifecycle.

Zibby: Then how did you get into fiction?

Anita: I was doing journalism. I was writing for The Boston Phoenix and other national magazines. I needed a challenge, so I thought I would try fiction. Nobody was asking me to write a novel. I had just turned forty. I really needed a challenge, so I thought, okay. I stole a story from the Bible like hundreds of other people before me. Because I write about untold stories, largely women’s lives, I knew it would be something about women. I started out thinking I would write a novel about Rachel and Leah and the conflict between the two first wives of Jacob and what was really going on in that family, but I didn’t have a plot. I kept reading on until I found the story of Dinah, which is kind of a mystery because she doesn’t say anything, totally silent. I write this novel from her perspective, a very minor character in Genesis. I spent that two, three years while I was working on Choosing a Jewish Life, actually, and writing for the local newspapers and working on this novel. It wasn’t easy finding an agent because historical fiction wasn’t selling at the time. It found its audience. It found a wonderful publisher. Women’s reading groups and independent bookstores made it a best seller. I’m forever grateful for that. Support your independent bookstore. Keep reading and buying books that your friends tell you are great.

Zibby: Have you ever done an event or had a conversation with Sue Monk Kidd? Her book, The Book of Longings, is also based in the Bible, but from a different perspective. I feel like the two of you would have a very interesting conversation.

Anita: You know, I wrote that book so long ago. It’s very much in the rearview mirror for me. I still get emails from people saying, will you write another novel based on another woman in the Bible? I certainly considered it, but it’s a long time ago. It’s not present in my life the way it is in reader’s lives. I still get lovely emails a lot from young people, high school students who continue to find it. That is just remarkable. I’m humbled. It makes them feel affirmed in their women’s bodies as they grow up and in their agency as female human beings. That’s always terrific mail to get.

Zibby: Sorry to keep bringing it up.

Anita: No, I really don’t mind. The reason they called me to write this book, to write the period book, was because of The Red Tent. The people at the Pad Project knew The Red Tent, loved The Red Tent, and were moved by the fact that women who are menstruating were not ashamed, that they were celebrating with one another. That speaks to the goal of the movement for menstrual justice. We have to get rid of shame. We have to get rid of stigma and ignorance if we are going to fully come into our own as human beings.

Zibby: What are you excited about now? What are you working on next? Nothing?

Anita: We’ll see what happens next. I’ve spent the last few months talking to people about the book, which has been great. There’s always a fallow period in between. I really couldn’t tell you right now. I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself just yet. I’m having the summer, the post-COVID on the beach, talking to people in person. I had dinner with two friends last night in a restaurant. I’m living my life for a few months.

Zibby: Good for you. I love it. I love that. Last question. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Anita: I think all writers give pretty much the same advice, which is, read. Read deeply. Read broadly. Read from different traditions. Read from different periods in history. Read books in translation. Challenge yourself to read things that are hard. I get inspiration from other art forms as well. I want to say the theater is a big source of information, and dance and just all forms of storytelling. Theater and film in particular, they’re sources of inspiration. That’s kind of it. I also think if you’re writing and you’re stuck, you should probably consider taking a class, in part to learn technique and things like that, but also, it’s very lonely. Writing is lonesome. It’s very easy to talk yourself out of it. It’s really good to have colleagues and teachers and support and people who are kind as you work along your way. I think that finding a community — writing is so lonely and solitary that — some people are fine with that. For a lot of us, it’s really helpful to have a cheerleading squad of some kind. It’s not fair to ask your spouse, I don’t think.

Zibby: I don’t know. I ask my spouse about all the things I write. Now I feel bad.

Anita: I do too. How many times can you ask someone to read a draft?

Zibby: Good point.

Anita: I try to wait. I wait until very late in the process to ask Jim to take a look at it.

Zibby: Awesome. Thank you so much, Anita. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Anita: Delightful. What a great title, by the way. Congratulations on that.

Zibby: Thanks. Appreciate it. Have a great day. Thanks for all your contributions.

Anita: Thank you. Thanks for having me on. You have a good day too. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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