Aunt Flow Wants a Discount

By Elena

I spent the days of my early childhood in a meadow of blissful ignorance. Back then, the injustices of the world were a mystery to me. I used to wonder why anyone would want to be a boy, but after facing the patriarchal restraints set on me, I finally understood. Society was designed for boys. Back then, I was only five. I didn’t know about the stereotypes and stigmas that plagued our world. I didn’t know women made up only 16% of congress at the time. For centuries, our government didn’t even allow women to vote, let alone be a member of government. The patriarchy was beyond my innocent mind.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Only when I was much older did I start to deeply analyze the world around me. As I grew into a young woman, the new hardships of womanhood accompanied my coming of age. I learned about domestic abuse and I noticed how strongly gender roles they still stood, even in my house, despite my dad being a feminist. As I grew, I learned about the wage gap and the pink tax. I read an article about an experiment Burger King made, asking women to pay more for the same fries, except in a pink box.  The pink tax extends further than the experiment. I was forced to learn my life was going to cost more than any boys would, just because I was a girl. Thus, the disappointment I felt in society surfaced, along with the birth of my ongoing outrage with society. 

Over the past few years, I’ve come to question the taboo of women’s menstrual cycles. Why do people get uncomfortable when talking about periods? I find the answer to be in society’s viewpoint of periods as luxuries, extending beyond the luxury label of menstrual products. When I learned menstrual items had a luxury tax, I couldn’t understand why that could possibly be the case. Now, I do. Society was built to exploit those outside the power circle of cis white men. Menstrual products are necessary items and should be available for free, or at least for much cheaper, and without taxes. “Around the world, an estimated one in ten young women has been unable to afford protection for their period. 12 percent have been forced to improvise with devices that may be ineffective, unhygienic and unsafe” (FIGO). High prices and such taxes only further the ideology periods are taboo to the public and can only be discussed as a luxury. 

Many people don’t realize the true cost of periods. Period cramps for many require medications, heating pads, and more comfortable clothing. Even more, periods can be painful, and about 10% actually have to change their usual daily activities. As a result, there’s a lot of costs which accompany the pain which extend beyond painkillers. A third of menstruators have to take days off of work when they have their periods, which may be trivial to some, especially if they have sufficient sick leave, but paid leave is another luxury 39% of US workers don’t have. 

The costs add up, and thus presents an extremely important issue for the menstruating population, especially those in poverty, to have to pay for period products. The total cost of periods throughout a lifetime amounts to an average of $10,000. Period products often make up at least a thousand of the cost. Even without these costs, menstrual products themselves can be costly. Opposers of cheaper or even free period products argue they’re already cheap enough, a box of pads usually costs only about $10 or so. However, what the argument ignores is menstruation happens rather often. We menstruate once a month for the majority of our lives, accounting for about 420 periods in a lifetime.

As a result, the many detrimental impacts to the menstruating youth who live in poverty are extensive. Those individuals often have trouble focusing in class, due to the worry of leaks. Their families can’t afford to spend their money on menstrual products when they also have to pay for simple items, such as food. Furthermore, even if they can scavenge together enough money for menstrual products, it is more than likely they won’t be able to afford enough products to get them through their periods, forcing them to use pads or tampons for longer than they should, which could lead these individuals to develop cervical cancer, toxic shock syndrome, or other infections. 

Ridiculously, menstrual items are taxed in many US states, as well as in other countries. Even worse, they’re labeled as luxury items. Apparently, having the means to control our unavoidable, already painful periods is considered a luxury in our society. Those defending the tampon tax argue how much money the tax brings to governments. “The primary argument in support of tampon tax is revenue collection. The California government estimates removing taxes on feminine hygiene products would cost the state about $20 million a year, which was why California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a tampon tax relief bill that passed both houses of the state legislature in 2016” (D’Souza). Although taxes can be beneficial to governments, it is unjust to capitalize on our necessities and exploit us for profit. Contrastly, we can see the gender bias in our tax laws when items such as Viagra, a mens product, is not taxed.

Annamarya Scaccia, an award winning journalist for Free The Tampon wonders why we worry about the costs of giving out free tampons but not condoms.  She explains, “For me, it’s not even a discussion of cost. This is needed to bring dignity and respect back to young girls.” The price of menstrual products and the tampon tax dehumanizes girls, especially if they can’t afford the products. We already dehumanize the poor in all aspects of life, and periods are no exception. Without access to proper supplies, menstruators are forced into embarrassing situations where they constantly fear leaks, which often can’t be avoided. We shouldn’t have to hide the fact we have periods, but we also shouldn’t be put in a situation where we have blood all over our pants.

The luxury label has more implications many people don’t consider. I’ve noticed for a while now how uncomfortable talking about periods makes people. We have deliberately invented euphemisms for periods to avoid having to talk about them directly. “Aunt Flow” and “your Visitor” are just a couple which come to mind. When I was younger, one of my friends and I came up with the nickname Blue so people couldn’t catch onto what we were talking about. Once, talking with a group of my friends about our periods prompted one of them to exclaim she was getting too uncomfortable and we had to change the subject. I asked her why, and she didn’t give me a straight answer, just that she was. By lowering the costs, or even removing the cost completely, our society could get rid of these stigmatizations which surround periods. We must make periods accessible, which includes both the cost and the conversations we must have about them.

Furthermore, menstruators all around the country have been faced with similar difficulties of periods being treated as taboo. Many girls have been faced with the difficult situation of being told by male teachers they can’t go to the bathroom, even if they can build up the courage to say it’s for dear Aunt Flow. When they do manage to get past the first loop, they may not be able to afford to have a pad or tampon in their back pocket, and consequently, may have to go to the nurse’s for one. Some schools even require a special note from the counselor’s first, with an explanation as to why they committed such a despicable act of being unprepared and irresponsible. I would argue society is being irresponsible, forcing young women to feel ashamed of their periods, and creating difficulties for many to have the means to be prepared or to deal with their periods. 

Clearly, it is not a want but a necessity the price of menstrual products must be reduced, if not eliminated. Menstruators’ bodies should not be exploited for profit, which is exactly what the prices and the tampon tax aim to do. The magnitude of these implications are much greater than most realize. Periods shouldn’t be treated as an embarrassment or insecurity, but rather as a natural, empowering experience. The  time has come to own ourselves and eradicate the stigmas along with the mental and the physical tax placed upon periods.

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