“Everything counts”. This is from my stepfather, and helps me keep perspective that everything is important, no matter the size. You certainly don’t have to do it all, and especially not all at once. I’m trying to take stock of what I have accomplished with pride but not bravado. Looking back in the forest after working so hard in the trees, that’s a fantastic feeling, but also realize that each moment is worth it, big and small. I also think, how often does a woman scramble, at least once in her life, with a surprise period? Just one tampon or pad in that moment can make a difference.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Marlowe, the creator of I Support the Girls. This is an organization that restores the dignity of homeless women and girls with donations of bras and menstrual hygiene products. As a human rights advocate, Dana works tirelessly to better the lives of the most invisible and marginalized populations often overlooked by mainstream society. A bra and some feminine hygiene products provide a low-income or homeless woman a healthier lifestyle and a serious self-esteem boost. With I Support the Girls, Dana has worked behind the scenes and beyond borders, not only facilitating donations, but also visiting countless shelters to connect with homeless women and empathize deeply with their individual experiences.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The initial spark that became “I Support the Girls” occurred in a changing room at Soma Intimates. I had no idea that this fitting room moment would become a movement. After some weight loss in 2015, I was faced with an issue common to women: my clothes didn’t fit well. Specifically, the bras. My husband Preston told me to clear my afternoon: this was a household emergency. I remember him telling me that my bras weren’t working in any direction.He had hand gestures to emphasize his point. I had to agree with him, and set out to Soma Intimates in my nearby mall.
As I tried my new sizes, I gaped at the price tags at something I would hopefully be replacing potentially months later for a new size. These were expensive! How often do women buy these? Can they? My shock was audible, and four words from a sales associate changed my life: homeless women need bras. From there, the whirlwind that we now know as I Support the Girls was born.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Simply put, people don’t want to see homelessness. It’s uncomfortable. How often do we plug in headphones or turn or heads to avoid panhandlers? And yet, women make up the bulk of the population of homelessness, especially female-led households. Often, women are what’s known as the hidden homeless population, because they aren’t visible. They’ll stay with friends or relatives, live in shelters, or be trapped in situations of domestic violence because the streets are so dangerous.
I Support the Girls wants to be loud. There’s a stigma around periods and bras. It’s taboo and sexualized, and some reporters won’t photograph our affiliates in front of boxes of tampons. There’s still an association that a period is an issue that should be kept quiet. Women shouldn’t face this. I get mad when I read articles saying that tampons have a luxury tax on them. I’m sure all women would agree there’s nothing luxurious about menstruation.
Still though, supporters need to know that homeless women are no different than other women. They still get their cycle, but it’s even worse to have it in an unsafe and unsanitary place. Providing products like tampons and maxi pads keeps women more comfortable, yes, but also cleaner and healthier. It can save on resources as often homeless women decide between a box of tampons and a meal. Bras too are considered superfluous items. It’s strange how the attitude ‘if you don’t see it, it doesn’t need to exist’ pervades.
There is sometimes an assumption that women don’t want your old bras. I’ve had women think twice before they gave, worried about the condition or the pattern. I’ve met some women who felt weird donating bras for someone else to wear. It’s no different than any other item of clothing, like a sweatshirt, except it goes under the clothes.
We want to disrupt that conversation and be loud champions of female dignity. No longer should tampons be slyly passed underneath bathroom stalls or in secretive relays from wrist to sleeve.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?
I have been fortunate to have two wonderful mentors, although I’ve had the input of dozens of wonderful people who have helped make I Support the Girls a dynamic organization.
I’d like to recognize Naomi Eisenberger from the Good People Fund. I call her my voice of reason. She’s been an excellent sounding board to help me manage the expansion of the infra structure of I Support the Girls, all while amplifying our impact to populations that need it most. She’s provided specific and pointed feedback that helps keep I Support the Girls on track with their mission, and grounds me.
Additionally, Rachel Litcofsky, a friend and mentor has supported me all along the way. She is a communications professional with experience in non-profits. Rachel has helped me work through communication areas where I needed some additional support and guidance. She is an out-of-the-box thinker, and I always appreciate her unique insight. Rachel always pushed me to do more and think more creatively when figuring out how to have a better impact with our donations.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
How are you going to shake things up next?
You never know what is going to happen next, but I have two things on my radar. First, in the Windy City. We’ve been working with Chicago Public Schools and the Department of Public Health to supply them with a year of menstrual hygiene products for their 13 lowest income public schools. What I intend to do is after this year, we would like to ramp up funding and try this program in a few similar cities across the United States. Then, see if the numbers support the success. I’d like to do research and see if it impacted attendance rates for girls in schools with a positive impact. We often hear and have seen that girls will miss school on days correlated to days of their period due to inability to access hygiene products. This can lead to embarrassment and discomfort as they may have to cope without, and stay at home.
Additionally, we’ve done a program with the Craine House in Indianapolis through the donation of over 5,000 pads and tampons. This alternative sentencing work release program serves nonviolent female offenders and their young children, who often have difficulties migrating back to society after prison. Craine House currently houses 24 women, and this donation will provide a year’s supply of menstrual products. I hope to replicate this program as well, and hopefully change perceptions of non-violent offenders.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
This book as, no pun intended, stuck with me for a few years. “Made to Stick”. I found that the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath really helped me with my idea formation and making process. It helped me break down ideas to their core, or simplicity as they call it. It is a realistic book that offers sound advice-anyone can benefit from it.
As far as podcasts, I’m a relatively new but avid listener of Improper Etiquette. It’s a brazen and unapologetic podcast hosted by Leah McSweeney and Laura Stylez, who are hysterical and passionate advocates of women’s issues and topics. I love their messages of female empowerment, and when they had me as a guest on their show, they had me do the unthinkable: swear publicly.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Right now, my focus would be on removing what’s known as the tampon tax in remainder of the states. Right now, many states are taxed with the regular sales tax, even though most items deemed to be necessities or health aids are tax exempt. That’s an affront to women’s health for this extra charge. By changing the dialogue on the necessity of hygiene products as health products, I’d love to see the expansion of free menstrual hygiene products for students in need, women in correctional facilities, and homeless shelters. We don’t have a tax on bandages, so changing the conversation on how menstruation is just a natural process can hopefully eliminate the tax in the remainder of the states.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In my earlier years, when I was a camp counselor, a fourth grade girl was having a rough day. When I asked her about it, she told me that her mom told her, “Tomorrow will be better.” That stayed with me and taught me about perspective. Now, I hear it also in the Jason Mraz lyric: “May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows”. It helps keep me optimistic and focused on the future.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!