Riding the crimson wave

By: Lily O’Connor Coates

I don’t know about you, but I very clearly remember the first time I learned about my body in grade school. It was fifth grade and all of us girls were separated from the boys and brought into a classroom with a projector. Without a word, our teachers set up the video and opened our eyes to the world of puberty. We were warned about how our bodies would change once we got to middle school: growing breasts, getting hair, and menstruation. But were we told to be proud of our changing bodies? To wear our womanhood with pride? No.

The movie taught us that we should be embarrassed when we get our periods, timidly ask one of the “older girls” for a tampon, and hide any and all period products we are given. But, most importantly, it taught us how imperative it was to shield the boys from our menstrual cycles. My first introduction to my body was taught with a male narrative in mind and meant to continue the negative stigma of menstruation and female puberty.

I had a lot of questions after that movie and I’m lucky that my mom made sure I had all of the information I needed to confidently take care of my body. In fact I didn’t even tell her the first day I got my period because I was so confident in what it was and how to manage it. But, not everyone is given this information. Women worldwide are constantly shamed for their monthly cycles, even by other women. Periods are stigmatized as impure, unclean, and a form of weakness.

But we are slowly changing the rhetoric. Period warriors across the world have joined the conversation about normalizing menstruation and the products associated with it.

The design of these products is meant to encourage menstruating people to lead their bleeding lives like they would any other time of the month. Breaking away from the traditional tampon and pad, these products add new choices to how people can respond to their periods.

The downfall? Prices.

You’ve seen them if you live in any of the 35 states that still enforce the “pink tax” or any sales tax for that matter. The  pink tax is essentially the practice of charging more for products that are specifically marketed to women. Despite being a necessity, menstruation products are taxed as a luxury. And yet, the same people who say these products are a luxury are the ones who complain about periods and call free-bleeding “disgusting.”

Lawmakers are slowly coming around and certain states are making the effort to reduce the oppression of the “pink tax.” Nevada just repealed its pink tax, following in the footsteps of Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The numbers show why eliminating the “pink tax” is important. To start, before Nevada repealed their tax, women were paying 6.85% sales tax on period products. Across the United States, women are paying 42% more sales tax than men because of “luxury” items (including period products and anything else marketed to women). In dollars, women pay about $1,351 more per year than men. Are you angry yet?

The “pink tax” and lack of accessibility to affordable period products have made crippling impacts of the quality of women’s health. Women pay upwards of $3,000 on period products. This does-not including heating pads, birth control, pain medication, new underwear, and acne medication which can total the cost to $18,171 in their lifetimes. This takes away from money that could go towards food, housing, retirement, and family. The “pink tax” is a form of oppression that is causing more issues than lack of financial equity. It is one of the main causes of period poverty.

People at or below the poverty line don’t just stop having periods because they can’t afford sanitary products. They are forced to find alternative ways to take care of themselves during their menstrual cycles. This could mean using socks, paper towels, old newspaper, used pads, or plastic bags as an unsanitary form of a pad.

Reduced to silence, embarrassment, and near financial crisis, having a period in the United States can be oppressive. As period warriors continue to champion causes associated with the “pink tax” and period poverty, it is important to continue our conversation about menstruation openly.

Periods are not gross, shameful, or impure. They are a natural bodily function and an important part of staying healthy. Being able to take care of your body in the best and most effective way possible—on and off your period—is important and should be considered a basic human right. Bleeding monthly is not a crime, and it is certainly not a luxury, so let’s tell lawmakers to stop taxing it like it is.