Idaho State Rep. Rod Furniss offered his fellow legislators a lesson in basic biology this week.
“Boys and girls have two Ps: peeing and pooping,” the reasonable Republican from Rigby said from the House floor on Monday as the co-sponsor of a bill to provide free menstrual products in public schools. “We know that the proper role of government is to cover the two Ps. Well, surprise, we just figured out [in] 2023, that girls have three Ps: They have peeing and pooping, and period.”
He proceeded with simple facts and common sense.
“Now we can hold the first two Ps, peeing and pooping. We can take care of that. But the third P, the girls don’t have a muscle down there. When that happens, it happens. It’s an emergency every time that happens. It’s a basic biological function. Is the proper role of government to cover a basic biological function? I submit to you that it is.”
Among those who watched the proceedings online was Avrey Hendrix, a 35-year-old mother of four who had met with Furniss last spring as the founder of a nonprofit advocacy group called the Idaho Period Project. Hendrix lives in Furniss’ district. And a young woman on her organization’s board has a friend in common with the legislator’s daughter.
“We just kind of approached him and asked him if he would be interested,” Hendrix later told The Daily Beast. “And he said yes.”
With Rep. Lori McCann as a co-sponsor, the simple one-page measure reached the House Education Committee last Thursday. Hendrix testified, citing a survey that found 75 percent of the girls in eighth grade and above had missed class and as much as a whole school day because menstrual products were not immediately available. She further noted the results of State of the Period 2021, a national study that found nearly a quarter of female students had difficulty affording menstrual items. She headed home to Rigby feeling the simple truth was on her side.
“Knowledge is power,” Hendrix later said.
House Bill 313 passed the committee and proceeded to the full House on Monday. Furniss seemed just a touch awkward while speaking about the three Ps, but Hendrix believed that his presence would make it clear that he was doing it only because he felt it was important.
“I think he did do great,” she later said. Even so, one of the female legislators took offense to a male presuming to champion this issue.
“The P-word that’s in my head right now is patronized,” Rep. Julianne Young said.
Young, a Republican, put a conservative slant on her intimation that Furniss was being sexist.
“As a woman, we’re capable of handling these things,” she said. “We look out for each other. I think it’s a stretch to say that we have to provide these products in order for women to be educated.”
Young continued: “There’s another P-word, and that P-word is parents. And if the schools get between the daughter and the parents, then there may be some important conversations that don’t take place.”
Hendrix, watching from home, noted to herself—and later to The Daily Beast—that not everybody has a reliable parent on hand for those important conversations.
Another female Republican legislator then sought to place a political label on the measure.
“This bill is a very liberal policy, and it’s really turning Idaho into a bigger nanny state than ever,” Rep. Heather Scott said. “It’s embarrassing not only because of the topic but because of the actual policy itself. So you don’t have to be a woman to understand the absurdity of this policy. And you don’t have to feel that you’re insensitive to not address this.”
Scott then took a classic far-right turn.
“What’s gonna be next?” Scott asked. “Because, we have what? Toilet paper. We have paper towels. And the good gentleman says, ‘Well, they can’t help it, the women can’t help having their periods.’”
Scott then proceeded into absurdity disguised as logic.
“Well, what about sweat?” she asked. “We can’t help but sweat. So are the schools now going to be providing deodorant for these kids?”
Another female Republican, one-time basketball coach Rep. Barbara Ehardt, objected to the phraseology employed by some of those who voiced support for the bill. She cited in particular “menstrual equity” and “period poverty.”
“These are woke terms,” Ehardt said.
Hendrix immediately Googled the term “woke.” From what she could tell, it had something to do with racial justice.
“Which is good for our world,” she said.
But “woke” was not good for the bill. The final tally was a tie, 35 ayes and 35 nays. That meant HB 313 was dead.
“Heartbreaking,” Hendrix said.
To make it worse, 10 women–all Republicans–had voted against it.
“It’s so shocking because they know what it’s like to go into the bathroom and not have a tampon,” Hendrix said.
She was left with a lesson that many of those who seek to do simple good are learning these days: that knowledge can lose its power in the face of willful ignorance.