Source: Rhodan, Maya. 2016. “Tampon Tax Ends in States After ‘Year of The Period.’” Time. http://time.com/4355164/tampon-tax-ends-in-states-after-year-of-the-period/ (accessed December 2, 2016).
Today, menstruation is an important aspect of the feminist movement. Recognition surrounding the unfair treatment of women and girls has increased and we now have a movement for change in how we see menstruation. Only women directly experience menstruation, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something that men need to think about as well. This modern menstruation movement focuses on strengthening the ever-growing discussion of periods, and it’s working. Between 2010 and 2015, mentions of periods tripled in mainstream media outlets. Not all of these were necessarily positive, but this clearly shows menstruation is being talked about. An article from Time magazine, “Tampon Tax Ends in States After ‘Year of The Period,’” makes mention of a couple of important things to consider in terms of where the movement is now and where it’s heading next.
In the United States, there has been an increase in the conversation about menstruation. If this be the case, why is it still such a taboo topic, as it has historically been? I served my mission in the Philippines, and one day after a district meeting a Filipino sister was sitting in a chair in a corner by herself, bent over and holding her stomach. I went over to see if she was okay, and she calmly told me she had started her menstruation and had cramps. A few minutes later, I noticed our district leader approach her. Within a few seconds, he gasped and backed away. Turning to her American companion, he asked her why she hadn’t taught the Filipino sister not to talk about those things with American elders. She burst in and defended herself saying, “Why not talk about it? It’s natural!” What a point to make! In the article from Time magazine, it discusses how the shame felt surrounding menstruation is a cultural conception. The district leader’s discomfort came from the culture he was a part of. My awkward feelings of mentioning to my mother- and father-in-law that I needed to travel back to our campsite from the hike because I needed to change my tampon is due to this culture as well. This is one of the largest barriers that keeps us from talking about menstruation, and it’s historical! Looking through every document, we can see that there has always been some discussion of shame, some discussion of hiding your period and keeping it a secret. Whether it be Kotex advertisements, Very Personally Yours and other educational materials for girls, and even the conversations in which mothers taught their daughters about menstruation, it has always been seen as a negative. Even today, if you feel no shame and are open about menstruation in all contexts, you’re seen as radical. The conversation is increasing, but there is still progress that needs to be made.
As the title of the article suggests, this year has been “The Year of The Period.” This year has marked changes not only in the United States, but around the world. Both Canada (last year) and the United Kingdom have changed legislation to eliminate taxes on feminine products. The United States has also seen a large push for this. The following map from an article in The Washington Post shows which states at the beginning of the year included a special tax on feminine products:
Since then, fourteen states have joined the ten that don’t have a tax with some form of legislation or amendments to change this. But why in the world was there even a tax on these products in the first place? Known in some states as a “luxury” tax, the extra cost goes above what is paid on food and medicine. Said Ingrid Nilsen, a YouTube celebrity who interviewed President Obama earlier this year on the topic, “I don’t know anybody that has a period that would consider it a luxury.” When asking the president why this tax existed, he said he didn’t know, but assumed it was because men made the laws. This makes sense historically. Menstruation is a “women’s problem.” Men often don’t think about it unless they’re looking to have a baby or tracking their coworker’s cycle to avoid her during certain times of the month (as men in Australia were caught doing earlier this year). So having an extra tax on something they don’t even think about likely made sense. Furthermore, it’s possible that when products were being chosen to be placed under this tax, tampons were more of a “luxury item” than they are today. Back in the early 1900s, women were still using rags until Kotex came along; and even then it took time after that for some women to change habits and begin to use napkins and pads. With this in mind, an additional tax might not have been seen as such a problem, as there was an alternative option. Today, we don’t have an alternative option. Rags are not practical; however, the article emphasizes that “every woman has a period story.” Included in this are homeless women, who do often have to use rags and even newspaper. So are women in prison, who usually lack access to tampons and pads. This is another issue that the country is moving towards. The elimination of the tampon tax has begun, but now there’s a movement towards the providing of free products. The cartoon “Using a Natural Sponge” alluded to this with its statement of “Less Profit from Women’s Blood!” Tampons are expensive, and this satirical piece demonstrated a less expensive way to take care of menstruation. In all seriousness, though, the expense of feminine products is high. Eliminating the tax will help some, but other solutions ought to be investigated to continue to bring these prices down and provide free products as needed.
The Time article mentioned a TED talk given by Nancy Kramer, founder and chairman of Resource/Ammirati, whose first client in 1981 was a new company called Apple, for whom she began marketing. In her TED talk (link included below), she explained how she traveled to California to visit Apple headquarters, and was amazed when she found in the women’s restroom free pads and tampons. She goes on to explain how this ought to be the norm, comparing tampons to toilet paper. Toilet paper is a necessity in a public restroom, so why aren’t tampons? She provided statistics showing that 86% of girls and women have been caught in a restroom without supplies, and that 79% have been forced to improvise with toilet paper or other materials while in the restroom. These statistics count for nearly 100 million women in the United States who have been caught without the supplies they need in public. This shows a definite need for something to change. The machines in public restrooms often don’t work or are empty, but even when they do, many people don’t carry a quarter on them. Having to roll toilet paper to use in an emergency is not a pleasant experience either, especially when we live at a time where so many resources have been provided for us – just not easily accessible in a woman’s restroom. Think about this for a second: what if we all had to carry toilet paper around with us? It wasn’t just naturally provided in a restroom, right there for us when we need it most, especially when we didn’t expect to have to go. The same is true of feminine products. These are luckily easier to carry around than toilet paper, but it’s easy to forget. Having a free supply is extremely useful. This year, New York City began distributing free products in public schools, shelters, and jails. It will be interesting to evaluate in the coming years how effective this has been, and if it would be possible to provide this on a larger scale, so more people can benefit.
A difference we see today is women as menstrual activists, working to abolish taxes and provide free products. There are many examples of this that can be seen across the country. Jennifer Weiss-Wolf has been a major leader in the movement, creating an online petition called “No Tax on Tampons: Stop Taxing Our Periods! Period.” that has garnished over 60,000 signatures. Girls at Tri Valley High School were prohibited from carrying bags at school for security concerns. They staged a protest by wearing tampon necklaces to school. Students at Harvard created an app called “Code Red,” in which a woman in the restroom who lacked products could dispatch for an “equipped sister” to come to the rescue. Even here in Utah there have been efforts. A friend of mine hosted a “Tampon Allies Pop-Up Shop” at the University of Utah last month in an effort to gather signatures and support for free products in women’s restrooms. These steps that individuals and communities are taking to make a difference for all women are helping in this fight for equality. As more people become open to the discussion, positive results will continue.
Feminine products are expensive. In New York City, the elimination of the tampon tax will save a woman approximately $416.52 over the course of her lifetime. The money saved, though, isn’t all that matters. Linda B. Rosenthal, the assembly member who introduced New York’s bill eliminating the tax, stated, “While this is about a tax on tampons, it’s also about women seeking and gaining their voice.” The increase in conversation and the slow elimination of the tax on feminine products are not coincidental. As women talk more about menstruation, more change will occur. The increase in discussion creates “an ideal environment to push tampon tax bills through the state legislatures,” and could lead to even more results, such as eventual free products for women in public restrooms. “These are the most recent wins in what has become a global movement over the past 18 months to change not only the way tampons and pads are taxed and distributed, but also the openness with which we talk about a biological process that for centuries was cast as a curse and a source of shame.” As we continue to be more open about menstruation, as the article suggests, the movement will only grow and continue until we talk about menstruation just as naturally as anything else. What really matters is the conversation: the conversations between mother and daughter, the conversations in social and work settings, the conversations among legislatures and businesses – all conversations will eventually lead to the changes we hope to see for greater equality in the world today.
“Free the Tampons” Ted Talk: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Free-the-Tampons-Nancy-Kramer-a
“No Tax on Tampons: Stop Taxing Our Periods! Period.” Petition: https://www.change.org/p/u-s-state-legislators-stop-taxing-our-periods-period