Periods & Politics: Menstrual Equity (Part 2)
This post is part two of a series I’m writing about menstrual equity: the idea that having a period should be harmless and affordable regardless of one’s socioeconomic background. You can read part one of the series here.
“The answer is always no until you ask.”
Growing up, I had a drama teacher who I can only describe as J.K. Simmons’ character in Whiplash with a thick southern accent, but damnit if she wasn’t full of inspirational sayings.
I’m sharing one of her best quotes with you because it’s the same mindset we’ve got to adopt in order to pass legislation that changes the way we purchase menstrual products.
Wait, what? What does legislation have to do with buying tampons and pads?
That’s right. Uncle Sam is all up in your...Betsy Ross? Martha Washington? You get the idea.
Right now, I see two HUGE problems with our nation’s laws and the menstrual hygiene industry: what we put into our bodies and what we pay to put into our bodies.
WHAT WE PUT INTO OUR BODIES: THE 8TH WORLD WONDER
Currently, there is no federal legislation requiring companies to disclose the ingredients of their menstrual hygiene products. That means they can add bleach (to make the cotton white), chemicals (for the “fresh” scent), and god knows what else, all while marketing it as blissed-out women running through a field of wildflowers.
Think about that area of your body as a sponge, literally soaking up whatever is in its vicinity. Adding bleach and chemicals there? Not so blissful.
Yet we’ve been fighting for transparency with ingredient disclosures for decades. In 1997, U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation requesting funds to “provide for research to determine the extent to which the presence of dioxin, synthetic fibers, and other additives in tampons and similar products used by women with respect to menstruation pose any risks to the health of women, including risks relating to:
immune system deficiencies
pelvic inflammatory disease
and toxic shock syndrome.”
Want to know what she heard from her colleagues?
10 subsequent versions of the bill were introduced in 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014, and most recently in 2017. Political divides and other, more complicated legislation have defeated this bill every time but Congresswoman Maloney isn’t giving up—and neither should you.
Until we pass the Tampon Safety and Research Act, do your part by purchasing unscented, organic cotton products. Non-organic cotton is home to all of the potential carcinogens listed above plus pesticide residue from shared cotton production. A few of my favorite brands for organic cotton tampons and pads are L., Sustain, and Cora. I even wrote a blog post about my enthusiasm for how these companies are changing the menstrual hygiene and “social good” industries. You can read it here.
WHAT WE PAY TO PUT INTO OUR BODIES: THE "TAMPON TAX"
Menstrual products in the United States are taxed as “tangible individual property”—you know, like buying gum or a jetski. However, items like prosthetics and prescription drugs like Viagra are “necessities” exempt from this category and therefore not taxed at all.
I don’t negate the importance of the aforementioned items, but I would argue that menstrual products are equally necessary—and necessary to a larger population—not just something you buy on a whim. Trust me, I’d rather spend $10 on something I can get more wear out of.
For most of us reading this, those few extra dollars might not make a dent; we’re willing to pay whatever is necessary to discreetly take care of our periods.
Not everyone is as fortunate: SNAP doesn't provide free access to menstrual products as part of their benefits. In jails and prisons, pads and tampons must be purchased through the commissary. And these items are not accounted for in the required inventory of homeless shelter necessities.
But several politicians are working to change that. One of my favorites is U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-New York). She recognized that even in her own state—and particularly in her district of Queens—menstruators of all ages were disenfranchised by costs associated with menstrual products.
So, what happens when buying tampons is off the table? Girls miss school, women miss work...all because they are unable to afford necessary period products.
“It isn’t just girls in underdeveloped countries who have to skip school for a week out of every month because they couldn’t afford these kinds of products,” Meng told PEOPLE.
“These stories are in our country, a developed country, where there shouldn’t be these kinds of things taking place.”
So Congresswoman Meng took action. She requested that the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board (organized under FEMA) allow homeless shelters to purchase menstrual hygiene items with grant funds. The items already on that list, according to Jennifer Weiss-Wolff’s Periods Gone Public, included: “cots, blankets, pillows, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste...underwear, and diapers.” In this case and many like it, it’s not that anyone thought menstrual products weren’t important enough, they just didn’t know to include them. The request was quickly approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
The answer is always no until you ask.
Meng, Maloney and a growing number of legislators are doing so much for menstrual equity—check out H.R. 972 here—and I’m excited to follow the careers of these champions for these long-stigmatized issues.
What’s really at play here are the ways we’ve failed menstruators: by not talking about periods because they’re “taboo” (biggest eye roll of the century), we continue to harm people through faulty product disclosures and economically disempower them through erroneous tax laws.
So what can you do to get the politics out of periods?
Speak up. Share this post with a friend and start a dialogue on what a world without these stigmatizations might look like. If you're the letter-writing type, write to your representatives telling them to support legislation that provides free menstrual products to those who need them most. Next time you're buying menstrual products, do your own study. Compare the ingredients in an organic brand like L. to one of the big names. Or try an alternative method like THINX—a period-proof underwear—and see if it works for you. You might like what you find!
I'm so thankful to have this little slice of internet where I can talk about what matters most to me and to have readers like you who continually inspire me to talk the talk and walk the walk. If you liked what you just read (re: were horrified and emboldened to take action), stay tuned because I've got an exciting event coming up in May and I will definitely need your help!
This week's photos were part of an Airbnb experience I did with IHNY, a photography studio in New York City! I had a fantastic time with my photographer, Jenn, who had great shoot locations in SoHo. Thanks again to IHNY for this memorable adventure!