The Tampon Tax, and Other Sources of Rage

It is an uncomfortably warm Wednesday. The kind that makes you feel the perspiration forming on your temples steaming under scratched plastic lab goggles. The kind of searing light that makes you tilt the phone back at another chin-folding angle to distinguish UCPD nixle emails. The kind of air that is the perfect vehicle for the smells only Berkeley streets can produce. Another puddle of sweat in your elbow crooks. Another fly’s buzz in the ears. Another fantastic day to be a woman on her period.

It is in this sweltering paradise that I am the stereotype manifest: returning from downtown Target with a sweaty armful of Always overnight pads in that awful orange wrapping and a bag of coconut chocolate, the kind that doesn’t actually taste like coconut, the kind that is actually way too sweet but made perfect sense in the self-check-out line, the kind that’s easy to give away in lab breakrooms anyway, the kind that is easy to reach for and pales in expense to the NINE DOLLARS it took to take those orange glorified diapers home. 

And my urge to cover my purchases in a bag, stuff the contents in my pockets, tuck it under the arm — it’s confirmation no? That I am the crazed girl with a chocolate fix because it’s that “time of the month.” I am all emotion, all PMS, and any skin-crawling irritation and accompanying butt graze is just the necessary precaution to control the blood falling uncontrollably out of me, the monthly reminder that you

Are a body you
Are a vessel you
Are the byproduct of the hormones and organs that remind you
What is merely part and parcel of the female condition. 
And from this there are to be underlined several sources of shame and rage.

The first if not most objective is the financial burden of this. Save for the chocolate, I have spent nine dollars on a necessity — not a luxury. To cut the embellishments of the situation: there is blood, leaving my body at a continuous rate, and there is no natural remedy that just “makes that go away”.

Couple that with the 6.85% sales tax that continues to be added to our hygiene products. California is just one of twelve states that have exempted its people from the sales tax for simply having a period — and even this golden state has only agreed to do so for a two-year trial period. In reading more upon the apparent “tampon tax,” it frustrates me that we still waste persuasive rhetoric on what should be largely obvious:

We are paying for something for which there is no alternative, and we have a system that suggests that pads and tampons are as trivial to me as the coconut chocolate. (According to the state, these products are certainly not as essential as Viagra is for men, which is somehow untaxed in all states except Illinois — I see you, Illinois.)

The point is this:

We have a system that aims to care. We recognize that food and medicine are not options, and likewise we don’t tax on those things. The fact that feminine products do not yet universally fall into the necessary category is angering, but more than that, it speaks to the environment that got us here.

I have a strong memory of walking with one of my old classmates, braving his first high school job and writhing at the Safeway bathroom clean-up shift. Not because it was a public bathroom, not because of the piss that missed the bowl, but because of “the blood on the seat in the women’s restroom. I’m not paid enough to deal with tHAT”.

Periods are a taboo topic that starts in seventh grade when girls are separated from boys, where women are taught to whisper to one another when they need a pad or other, and the boys go off to eavesdrop while musing over their end of the reproductive cycle. It is a taboo that continues when you have to pay an extra quarter to use the mysterious silver dispensers in women’s bathrooms. It is a taboo that cements itself when answer comes in bright pink online forums and flowers on the margins. It is a taboo that continues when we treat this natural, powerful, and dare I say casual bodily function as anything less. It is not a cop out, an excuse, a secret code word into a sisterhood hair braiding sesh. It’s not something that stays in the back corner of the seventh grade sex ed class room. It is a taboo we perpetuate when we shovel money we don’t have to stuff our gaudy orange and yellow wrappers in the bottoms of our backpacks, and proceed quietly with with our day.

Today, and women have had the right to vote for a mere century, been “equal in theory” for less than 5% of our two thousand and nineteen year history. Our government, leadership, and representation are all male-dominated — but that is not news to us. This a mere restatement of circumstance — why be surprised by or blame yourself for feeling shame from a life that was not designed with us in mind? 

And maybe I only take the space here to point out that shame, point out that rage. Acknowledge what is tied to a twenty-year-old girl shovelling pads and chocolate under her arms and all that that moment holds. Acknowledge the many years of history that has made that emotion mine and, all the not so many years of making it better. Acknowledge how fresh this conversation is, how wildly different things would be just one generation before. Call it feminism call it activism call it a sign of the times but at the end of the day:

This is a mere restatement of circumstance. Because perhaps there is a time for shame, but no less, there is a time for rage.

Jennifer Co