The Tampon Tax, Stigma, and Accessibility to Products

For a woman, buying tampons and pads is a purchase that occurs just as regularly as buying toothpaste (or maybe even more regularly). If having a period is just as ordinary as brushing your teeth, then why is there still such a stigma around it? Why does the stigma reach into so many aspects of life? From the first time a woman gets her period, there is an innate sense that it’s shameful, and that we need to keep it a secret, even from other women. They are considered something private, something dealt with without help, the mark of entering “womanhood." The shame most women feel when they get their first period comes to them as naturally as shame that comes when you say something about someone without realizing they are right behind you. 

Perhaps the stigma comes from Bible verses that state women are unclean while menstruating, and whoever touches them will be unclean. Even though this idea is just as outdated as the biblical rule of not wearing more than two types of fabric, it still seeps into society today, especially in third-world countries where women do not have access to hygiene products, either because of accessibility or religious reasons. Because of a lack of access to proper sanitary products, girls are often forced to miss school for the weeks they are on their periods, causing an educational deficit that could eventually lead them to leave school altogether. Some of these women will use makeshift products instead, such as old rags, feathers, or dirt, leaving them prone to infection. Days for Girls, a Canadian-based organization, is dedicated to providing women in third-world and developing countries with the supplies they need, making kits with eight liners, two waterproof shields, two pairs of underwear, soap, and a washcloth.

However, inaccessibility to hygiene products isn’t just a problem overseas, but a problem also found in our own neighborhood. On a cold night in October 2014, a homeless woman attempted to escape the cold weather by staying in the lobby of a local business until a security guard asked her to leave. When she stood up, the couch and her clothes were stained with blood, and the security guard told the woman he was calling the police to file a report about the damaged couch. He told her this and advised her to leave so that she wouldn’t get in more trouble for trespassing, but she chose to stay and wait for the police, as she would rather go to jail and get a chance to clean up, change clothes, and have access to pads and tampons than got out without proper clothes or supplies. When Memphians Eli Cloud and Nikii Richey heard this story, they knew they had to change this. They started a nonprofit called Sister Supply, which provides women all over Memphis with underwear and hygiene products. 

It’s the unsettling truth that feminine supplies aren’t donated to shelters, perhaps because of the stigma attached to buying products, perhaps because they aren’t valued as much as toothpaste and deodorant. It could also just be the fact that they are forgotten about; perhaps we forget that they aren’t accessible to everyone. Whether it’s hard to afford the necessary products because of the “pink tax," inaccessibility to them because of homelessness, or the lack of them in countries because of cultural reasons, sanitary products need to be widely available to all women, and the stigma behind something just as natural as brushing your teeth needs to end.