Women have always struggled with their periods. Not only has bleeding been perceived as taboo in many countries across the globe, but women through the ages have also been forced to rely on a whole slew of unsavory materials, ranging from moss and papyrus to wooden sticks to keep their periods hidden and at bay.
Today, the stigma around periods has slowly begun to dissipate. And feminine products have become smaller, more comfortable and much safer.
But women in the United States are still struggling when it comes to their periods.
Because the products they so desperately need to use each month are still being taxed as luxury goods.
Put another way, the goods that each woman needs to use every month are not deemed essential.
In one of the richest countries in the world, we currently believe that feminine hygiene products should be a privilege and not a right.
I’m just going to say it. This is insane.
After all, countries like Britain, Australia and Canada have already abolished their country’s respective tampon taxes. Even nations like India, Kenya and Colombia abolished their VATs. And Rwanda, one of the 25 poorest countries of the world, abolished their VAT after they saw 18% of girls and women in the country dropping out of school or missing work due to an inability to afford menstrual products.
Which begs the question — why is the United States so far behind?
Perhaps it is because society has always generally taken an unfavorable view of menstruating women.
Traditional views of menstruation
In ancient Greece for example, Hippocrates believed that pre-menopausal women had accumulated so much blood in their systems from a lifetime of periods, that this blood could escape through their eyes and nose and kill or wound nearby animals and babies.
In Rome, the elder Pliny, an author and natural philosopher, believed that menstruating women were possessed and professed that menstrual blood,
“Turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens dry up, the fruit falls off tress, steel edges blunt and the gleam of ivory is dulled, bees die in their hives, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”
The church has also looked down on menstruating women. Seeing periods as a reminder of Eve’s original sin, they decided that pain relief should not be made available to women during their menses. Rather, they should suffer for their sins each month.
In the United States, our views have evolved over the years.
But the historical stigma attached to menstruation along with a lagging recognition of women’s rights has likely contributed to the decision to tax women’s feminine products.
After all, it wasn’t until 1919 that women earned the right to vote — a full 91 years after white men first cast their ballots. And even today women are still earning $0.79 on the dollar compared to their male colleagues.
What’s more female representation in government is disproportionately low. In the United States today, women still hold less than 25% of government positions. And this lack of representation and power has clearly had an impact on the laws we have passed and still uphold today.
The case for change
Thankfully, there are some glimmers of hope for women in the United States.
In the last few years, this country has begun to come around to the idea of providing more substantive access to menstrual products in schools and public institutions.
Taking a page from Scotland, which was the first country in the world to make feminine hygiene products freely available in schools and public institutions in 2018; California, Illinois, New Hampshire and Georgia all followed suit.
And other states are starting to jump on the bandwagon as well, including Virginia and Delaware.
But the underlying period tax still remains. In fact, in over 30 states in the United States, feminine hygiene products are still taxed as luxury goods.
This is ironic and disappointing given that almost one in eight women live in poverty in this country and can barely afford to put food on the table, let alone buy essential feminine hygiene products.
What’s more, many of these states have made other less essential products exempt. For example, Louisiana has made Mardi Gras beads exempt. Idaho has made chainsaws exempt. One state has even made Rogaine for men exempt.
Yet despite these head-scratching exemptions, feminine hygiene products still do not qualify.
At the end of the day
It’s clearly time for a change. Women have had to endure a lot through history when it comes to menstruation, including misguided views and a host of uncomfortable and unsanitary period products.
Fortunately, today we are at a place in history, where we finally have feminine hygiene products that are safe, compact and comfortable. However, despite this progress, we are still penalizing women when it comes to their periods by taxing feminine hygiene products as luxury goods.
Periods are no luxury. They are a necessity. One which allows us to function and reproduce. And we need to acknowledge and respect this.
So let’s do away with the period tax. It’s time.
Hello Clue, What Was It Like to Get Your Period in Ancient Greece
Simple Health, A History of Menstrual Hygiene
TOTM, A History of Menstruation: 5 Interesting Facts
Medical Daily, A Brief History of the Menstrual Period
India Times, 11 Ways Women Handled Menstruation Before Sanitary Napkins and Tampons
Glamour, How Did Women Deal with Their Periods in the Dark Ages
Greg Jenner, A History of Periods and Tampons
Wikipedia, The Tampon Tax- Wikipedia
© Courtney Burry 2021