Zoey Freeman, a 21-year-old opinion columnist for the Daily Bruin at UCLA, wanted to invoke discussion and call for change when she wrote in her column, titled “Free tampons would slow flow of gender inequality,” that providing free or subsidized tampons and pads through healthcare would promote gender equality.
She got her wish, along with a load of criticism.
“When the feedback I received was attacking me as a person, my gender, my intelligence, my family, and my school, it just wasn’t productive in any sense,” Freedman tells PEOPLE. “There’s a big difference between disagreement and disrespect.”
Once her column posted on July 20, it received numerous comments from people asking if the post was satirical, with some even taking jabs at Freedman, calling her an “insane” “crybaby” simply looking for “free stuff.”
But Freedman tells PEOPLE that her argument for free or reduced costs feminine products was particularly to benefit “homeless women, women on food stamps (which don’t cover tampons or pads), and women who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.”
Some critics balked at Freedman’s notion that the issue is one of gender equality. But the student says that the issue is related to gender because it affects women exclusively and is necessary for women to “live a healthy life.”
To support her argument, the opinion columnist used toilet paper as an example, saying that while it is a necessity, it is used by everyone equally. She noted that toilet paper is provided for free in public restrooms while feminine products, though equally important, are not.
The onslaught of attention and “sexist” criticism prompted the incoming senior to write a follow-up post reiterating her argument and addressing her critics.
“I voiced my opinion on equal health care and I was told to get a hysterectomy or to get married so a man could take care of my needs,” she wrote. “I was told to drop out of school because it seemed apparent that I wasn t learning anything anyway. I was called a colorful array of degrading names aimed directly at being a woman.”
However, Freedman says that amid the criticism, she has received a lot of support as well, namely from other women along with her family and friends who “have expressed their support for [Freedman] as a person, for voicing my opinion confidently and for how I have dealt with the negative feedback I have received.”
Freedman tells PEOPLE that her work as an intern with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles inspired her to think more deeply about women’s issues, leading to the controversial post. But overall, Freedman says she is happy that her post has started a discussion about healthcare and gender equality, whether positive or negative.
“I just hope that the hateful people who continue to share or comment on my post in outrage know that they are continuing an important discussion, and I thank them for it,” Freedman said.