Taxes, Tampons, and Travesty: My period’s political coming of age during the dawn of the free tampon debate.

Over the past few years my period has been getting more and more political. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me. I mean, this is America, land of the free and home of government so small it can crawl right up into your uterus. It’s possible that I had been naive, or maybe I was just been so caught up in not losing my access to safe abortion, that until recent years I completely neglected to look at the politics of my period.

For me, it all started in 2015 when I read this article by The Atlantic about why people hide tampons on the way to the bathroom. At the time, I was working for a tech start-up (read: not always a lot of ladies around, but that’s an issue for another article) and going to the bathroom with a tampon was always a 007 level secret mission. Fact: I’ve smuggled banned items through TSA with less thought than I was giving to how I would make it 25 feet to a restroom, without a single person realizing that I was menstruating. After reading that article I felt like a fool! I mean, I called myself a feminist, and yet I was essentially embarrassed to be biologically female on a monthly basis. The frustrating part was that I couldn’t even remember how I learned to hide my tampons. I grew up with a very progressive mother and I come from a large family of oversharers. Hiding things that are “taboo” or “gross” is not apart of my inherent DNA. I knew it had to have been a learned behavior. Shortly after that article, I started an open carry policy when I went to the bathroom, clutching my tampon like bayonet, ready to impale anyone who dared question me.

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Shortly after I implemented my open carry policy, (a personal, mini resistance to the taboo), Thinx (the geniuses behind period panties) began to get a lot of heat for their “controversial” subway ads. I feel like I cannot even begin to address the ridiculousness that is this facet of the period debate without first saying: as someone who lived in NYC for almost two years and was a regular public transit user there, this isn’t even close to the most controversial thing I’ve seen on the subway system. As the articles and opinions rolled in on this ad campaign, I started to understand where my shame came from. Regardless of how open my family was, I didn’t live in a bubble. Growing up (especially as a girl) in a world where an advertisement openly addressing a female biological function is controversial, but using sex and the objectification of (usually) women to sell literally anything is the norm, a girl is bound to absorb some shame.  

Last year, this whole bloody controversy came to a personal climax when it hit my home state of Little Rhody.  First, through the hard work of State Sen. Louis DiPalma and Rep. Edith Ajello, my state legislature tried to pass a bill that would strike down the tampon tax in Rhode Island. Sadly, the bill stalled in committee in June of last year and again my mind was blown as to why this was even a debate. I was shocked to find out there are only 7 other states that have successfully abolished this tax. To rephrase, 86% of this country is taking tax on an item that is an absolute necessity.

To fully illustrate the non-negotiable need for tampons and other feminine hygiene products, let’s look at a very common, publically offered item: toiletpaper. If you were to forgo wiping your bottom after going to the bathroom, you would still have pants and underpants to provide sufficient barrier between your unwiped situation and the public. However, if every person who had their period sat down on the NYC subway without a hygiene product in place, we would have a biohazardous disaster on our hands. Is it possible, a reason this tax has not been addressed sooner is because it would be hard to find enough people willing to publicly bleed on a subway for fear of shame?

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Finally, in September 2016, the Brown University Undergraduate Council of Students decided to offer FREE tampons in both the men’s and women’s restrooms. The country went nuts and I did what everyone says never to do; I read the comments section. The articles were all well and good, but I was less interested in how they implemented it, than I was in why no one had thought of this sooner!  I had a hunch that my learned embarrassment and people’s aversion to addressing “Old Aunt Flo” directly were two closely related issues. I feel comfortable saying that I was right in this assumption.

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My initial take away from reading comments on various articles was: there’s a lot of confusion about what defines a necessity and what just makes people really uncomfortable. And (consequently?) there’s a lot of confusion about periods. I mean, the person asking about EPT testing!? As far as I know, pregnancy is not yet (I’m looking at you GOP) an uncontrollable function of the female body. Putting aside people who cannot follow basic principles of logic, what concerned me most were the people who genuinely did not understand what a period was for or how tampons worked.

 

In a way, I understand people’s fear. As humans we have a historical habit of fearing (and sometimes even demonizing) that which we do not understand. I just never thought that in the age of information, where carrying a handheld, AI equipped, mini computer in your pocket was the norm, that a bodily function (which has been happening since the dawn of the human race) would be so widely misunderstood.

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So, where does this leave me and all of us bleeders, in 2017? Well, Cornell is set to start dispensing free sanitary products in some of their campus bathrooms, Chicago is running a controlled trial release of free sanitary products with the hope it will lead to widespread change at the University of Chicago and it’s only February. Overall, I’m hopeful.

Though I’m no longer afraid to walk with a tampon in hand, I still have mixed feelings about politics in my panties; a predominant one being annoyance at the necessity of it all. But, like all the people behind us know and all the people in front of us will learn, equality was not won in a day. And so, with my chin held high, I say: Tampons out everyone! We have work to do.

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