When one of your best friends is a guy, there are some conversations that arise over and over again. Our recurrent discussions often turned into a lighthearted, odd and almost subverted “battle of the sexes,” in which we’d debate about who had it “worse” — me or him. He’d complain about constricting and seriously flawed measurements of masculinity and about the discrimination he faced in a heteronormative society. I’d complain about sexism, inequality and the wage gap. We’d eventually both concede we both had to deal with society placing unrealistic body expectations upon us.

These “debates” started when we were teenagers with worldviews just beginning to expand beyond the borders of our tiny, rural hometown. Now, while we still both joke about individual challenges, our conversations hopefully include a better understanding of intersectionality and our own particular sets of privilege.

When we were still both just stubborn kids trying to understand the unfamiliar worlds we were about to enter, the earlier versions of these discussions were all about winning the argument. I tended to, as the argument escalated, bring up the topic that silenced every other man in my life — from my dad to my brothers to the rest of my male friends. Experience taught me that once you bring up anything minutely menstrual, most men get uncomfortable and desperately want to switch the topic.

So, there I was, aggressively pointing out that, in this debate, I was the only one dealing with bleeding, bloating and cramping monthly. My best friend, who has an older sister, was completely unfazed. This was also typically the cue for a teacher, a classmate, a neighbor or a waiter to interrupt our conversation and overhear me mid-rant. Then they’d leave and I’d be embarrassed, and my friend would laugh hysterically. Amid the laughter, he’d agree with me and acknowledge that his understanding of the subject was probably lacking.

Today, the same scenario is still at play, except on a larger scale. Menstration is still a taboo discussion topic. If you’re an individual who experiences this biologically driven red mess every month, you’re expected to deal with it as discreetly as possible. You don’t talk about it, and you certainly don’t let there be any visible evidence. Yet, the individuals who decide how much it’s going to cost to ensure this discretion are most likely men who don’t understand the experience. They treat the products women use to manage and hide this bothersome natural process as “luxury items” that deserve to be taxed.

Numerous states provide exemptions for products that are deemed necessities, such as food, prescriptions, a selection of over-the-counter medicines and prosthetics. There are even some states that have removed the sales tax on clothing purchases. However, Michigan is currently one of roughly 40 states that impose a “tampon tax.” Feminine hygiene products, such as tampons, sanitary pads and other similar products are subject to Michigan’s 6-percent sales tax, simply due to being labeled in legislation as “luxury items.” Anyone who’s actually ever experienced a menstrual cycle would find this terminology ironic. The absolute last thing someone would describe using these products as is as a “luxury.”

Even President Obama, in an interview last Friday, displayed some confusion regarding both the classification and the tax by stating: “I have no idea why states would tax these as ‘luxury items’ … I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” Obama encouraged citizens and states to make “local level” changes to address the highly gendered tax. In particular, he mentioned a recent bill in California that seeks to remove the sales tax from feminine hygiene products, such as pads and tampons. Doing so would alleviate the financial burden, in a myriad of states, on a population of individuals who are already subject to a substantial wage gap.

Even the tiniest of additional costs tacked onto a purchase can add up, especially for women of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. A news release stated that Californian women pay roughly $7 each month for 40 years of tampons and pads. These purchases accrue to “over $20 million annually in taxes.”

The United States certainly isn’t the only country disputing a “tampon tax.” Canada recently removed the tax on feminine hygiene products this past summer. The initiative was followed this past fall by protests in Britain to follow Canada’s example and abolish the tax. Women wore white pants and no form of hygiene product while they were on their periods.

Some may argue that tampons and sanitary pads are akin to other everyday products. However, these products are a necessity — one that’s also heavily insisted upon by society. Cultural standards strongly stigmatize the idea of women bleeding in public and view it as unsanitary. Women and girls rely upon these products to continue leading their normal lifestyle — whether that involves working, going to classes, playing sports or just generally being in public. These products also protect women’s clothing and ensure their hygiene.

Additionally, if one is going to argue against removing the “tampon tax,” they must also consider that women are most likely already paying inflated prices for grooming products, such as shampoo and deodorant. Thanks to a highly gendered price discrepancy known commonly as the “pink tax,” a product designed for women, even when there’s an identical product intended for men, may cost more simply because of its pink or purple packaging or its particularly “feminine” fragrance.

While women may avoid unfair gendered pricing by buying the cheaper men’s alternative, there’s no male equivalent for tampons and sanitary pads. Women have instead been expected to pay an extra tax for decades on a necessity that’s mistakenly referred to as a “luxury item,” in addition to extra fees on grooming products. State governments and businesses must stop treating the gender and biological processes of their consumers as something they can take advantage of for financial gain, especially when the wage gap still remains a prevalent issue. Perhaps we can remedy the pricing discrepancies by creating more gender-neutral products, but until then, state legislators can ease women’s financial burdens by removing an unnecessary tax on a monthly necessity.

Melissa Scholke can be reached at melikaye@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.