Tampon users don't deserve the Pretty In Pink Tax and how to end it

By Blair Chernow

The following image depicts a generic CVS aisle, packed to the brim with rosy-colored tampon boxes.

Did you know that it costs more to be a woman? Believe it or not, for many, simply existing as female (and transgender and non-binary people who menstruate) costs more.

Just take a stroll down the aisle of your neighborhood CVS or Target. You can’t miss the area I’m referencing because it’s shockingly—PINK! Indeed, these “pretty in pink” items, especially targeting females, are lovely looking, but they are more expensive. The products in the rose-colored hygiene section of the store are subject to the “pink tax,” which isn’t really a tax but rather a charge tacked on to any product for women. This unfair gender pricing is seen on virtually every product for women, but a prime example is an up-charge we see on personal care products: shampoo, soaps, razors, and deodorants, to name a few. Those rosy products in the “pink lane” at your local grocery or drug store are not as innocent as they appear. In fact, they come with a pink, packed punch...a higher price tag.

Sure, the pink packaging immediately draws your eye, soothingly serving you a beautiful feminine vibe. But, that pretty pink packaging costs the same amount as the black and woodsy packaging housing the same types of hygiene products in the next aisle. The only difference (besides the packaging) is who they target. The products for men cost less. I’ll say it louder for the people in the back. Yes, although the packaging costs the same to make, as do the products inside the package, the items in the pretty pink packaging, made especially for women (because apparently, we all love pink), cost more. Explain that to me, please.

If you aren’t appalled yet. Keep reading: not only do women have to pay more for just about everything dubbed “for women”, usually pink, and oftentimes personal care products, but they are also taxed on menstrual supplies. I can’t make this stuff up.

Yes in this state and far too many others, we have a so-called “tampon tax”, which is actually a tax on menstruation products. For those of us who get our periods, we have to suffer through a various array of cramps, bloating, bleeding, headaches, surging hormones, and mood swings for a week each month from the time we are in middle school until we are well into our fifties. To make it even worse for us, we have to pay a tax on the only products available to make it possible for us to step outside into public during that week each month. Menstruation products should be considered exempt from tax given that they are a necessity. Why in the world should these feminine products be taxed?

Known as the “tampon tax”, taxing these menstrual supplies has been called into question for a good reason. Let’s be honest, regardless of pronouns, everyone knows these products aren’t optional, that they need to be purchased at least every month, and that this issue solely impacts women, transgender, and nonbinary people who menstruate. We all suffer from this up-pricing and tax on menstruation products. The tax is unfair and discriminatory.

When will it ever end? I’m only seventeen and it seems that every day I join my sisters to gear up to fight a new battle. Whether it’s for our right to dictate what happens to our own bodies or how much we get paid in the workforce, It seems like every second, we have a battle to wage. Sexism exists in so many places in society, and living life as a woman comes with so many unfair and unnecessary obstacles and challenges. Specifically, for us it seems simply existing comes with an up-charge.

The unfair gender pricing of the pink tax and the tampon tax allows feminine products to be up-charged and taxed at the expense of the people who use them. In America, many necessary products are exempt from sales tax in most states. For example, medications and other products deemed necessities are not subject to sales tax. So why should tampons or pads be taxed? You may be thinking, “what’s a few extra pennies on a box of pads or tampons?” Well, I’ll tell you exactly what it is. Over a lifetime, a woman spends around $6,360 on tampons and other menstruation products. The reality is that even without the extra tax, menstruation products are inaccessible for many women. Add the extra tax, which in some states can actually be almost a dollar more, and it becomes even worse. It might not seem significant to you but when you are budgeting between school lunch money for your children or a box of tampons, the extra few cents matter.

Additionally, the money collected from the Tampon tax accounts for a significant amount of many states’ funds. California gets around $20 million each year from the Tampon tax alone. Women pay incredibly high tax rates for period products all over the world. Women who face homelessness or poverty are often unable to afford feminine products. The amount spent on tampons and pads can also make it difficult for women to save their money because they need to purchase these expensive hygiene products. Two out of every three low-income women in the US can’t afford menstrual products at least once a year. Many have to miss school and work because they don’t have the needed supplies to stop their blood flow, so they can leave the house. This affects their education and jobs. Many women often can not afford to buy food AND menstrual products. They may need to pass on leasing a car or renting a home to budget their money for trips to the drug store to stop the flow of their period. This simply should not be happening.

Surely if the government required that only men had to pay a tax solely because of their sex, that would be an unconstitutional denial of equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Yet that is exactly the effect of the tampon tax. Most states do not tax items considered “necessities of life” such as food and medicine. Menstrual products most certainly are a necessity for most women, for most of their existence. Tampons and pads are absolutely essential for attending school, working, and functioning in society.

The color and packaging contrast greatly in men's and women's aisles in the Birmingham CVS pharmacy on May 28. We can clearly see the overwhelming amount of bright colors such as various pinks and purples compared to the black, gray, and dark red packaging on the male’s products. While this packaging costs the same as the pink products to make, their store prices are much lower than the women’s items.

Let’s be honest, it’s not simply a matter of common sense or even compassion that should prevent these taxes on menstruation products. The tampon tax is actually unconstitutional. I can’t think of a more clear example of sex-based discrimination. Absolutely, it’s in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. That’s right, it’s way more than just unfair or inequitable, it is actually unconstitutional and illegal. The tampon tax is a denial of equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

The goal here is to make period products accessible and to remove any additional taxes placed on them. But the real issue (and the much more difficult problem to solve) is destigmatizing menstruation in the first place. Talking about menstruation should be talking about strength. Every month women deal with cramps, headaches, raging hormones, and nausea. Yet we are still such a very long way from erasing all of the squeamishness, disgust, and ignorance about what is actually just another essential human function. Menstruation may be uncomfortable to talk about, but it is crucial that we bring this discussion into the open and take a look at how this affects people.

Luckily for women everywhere, the powerful members of the Groves Women’s Empowerment club, led by social studies teacher Geoff Wickersham, are tackling both of these issues head-on. Having a supportive and understanding outlet for women is extremely important and the Groves Women's Empowerment club does exactly that while also working to do away with unfair and discriminatory policies, laws, and legislation. I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting and speak to the club’s presidents about the Tampon Tax and the importance of destigmatizing menstruation. With every club meeting, the stigma on menstruation takes another hit because these members are intent upon making it part of our everyday discussions. Senior Ateeyah Abdulwasi and junior Clarice Kim are making history as they work to repeal this tax for Michiganders. Both girls discussed the idea that one of the first steps in this battle is breaking the taboo and stereotype around menstruation.

“This movement is really about destigmatizing periods and questioning why we are taxing things as if they are a luxury just because we don't want to talk about them,” Abdulwasi said.

As I sat down with the girls and discussed their movement, we talked about what we as students could do to help menstruators everywhere. Abdulwasi and Kim have dedicated hours to calling representatives in our city government regarding the tampon tax. In the Women’s Empowerment meeting, over twelve girls called representatives in government and left messages regarding the tampon tax. With their calls and messages, the women’s empowerment members are bringing the tax out into the open and demanding changes. Their ultimate goal is to force legislation into repealing the tax.

Vice president of the Groves Women’s empowerment club, junior Clarice Kim, and Outreach officer for the Groves Women’s Empowerment Club, Junior Maya Trajano, call senator Rosemary Bayer asking her to support the tampon sales tax repeal of the sales tax on period products using the club’s calling script on May 26, Part of the script reads “The taxes on menstrual products directly affect menstruators from a lower socioeconomic status, as a lack of access to these products due to cost can be detrimental to one’s health. We believe that everyone should have equal access to menstrual products, with the first step towards this goal being the removal of the sales tax. With (Rep./Sen._____’s) support, this is possible.”

Volunteering at a charity called “I Support the Girls”, which helps provide essentials to women in an effort to solve menstrual problems, Kim also went on to talk about the Women’s Empowerment Club not only being a change agent but also offering a safe space for girls to relate to one another and talk about our struggles.

“ We had a conversation with the people in our club about our period experiences, and it was such a raw conversation and you don’t get to talk about periods that openly. We were just saying like ‘oh remember when I was scared of periods’ like opening up the pads really slowly, you know those relatable experiences that you never really talk about, and just sharing them so openly and laughing about all of our stories.” Kim said.

These strong women inspired me to tackle this topic too. Understanding that the first step in doing so is to talk about ourselves and our bodies openly and honestly, I vowed to implement that in my everyday life. I think it is essential to destigmatize menstruation. We can’t be so afraid to talk about our periods that we fail to protect the very people suffering from these unfair charges. Only by discussing these topics can we begin to implement change.

We have so much to still learn from each other. We must keep the communication and discussions open and going. I was particularly grateful for the candor and patience that the members of the Women’s Empowerment Club displayed as they explained to me more about the reality of having a period as a person who identifies as nonbinary.

“Coming from a person who is nonbinary. Clarice and I both know that you know there are trans men who menstruate, nonbinary people who menstruate, and I think that helps in knowing that we do need to break down many many many stigmas.” AbdulwasI said.

They then continued to discuss the reality of menstruation having no gender.

“We are the new generation of outward change, we have to fight for what we want. We have social media, and you know various platforms, so it’s not that hard to contact people anymore,” Abdulwasl said. “I think that’s definitely why this is such a big focus of ours and why we push that this isn’t just a woman’s issue but, as you said, a menstruators issue and everyone’s issues.”

Just speaking with them, I learned to view the issue from even another perspective, that of a transgender and non-binary person. This made me even more passionate about helping because it brought to my attention just how so many people suffer from these unfair taxes and up charges.

After talking with Kim and Abdulwasi, I became inspired to speak out on this topic on my own. When I brought this up to my mom and my friends they jumped right on board and we began making our own calls to representatives. Whether it was leaving voicemails or spreading the word to our friends and family, I already felt I was making a difference for everyone everywhere.

The best part was when my dad asked to help us make the calls. I left a message stating who I was, what school I’m from, what my reason for calling is, and the importance of supporting the tampon tax repeal. “We believe that everyone should have equal access to menstrual products, with the first step towards this goal being the removal of the sales tax. With (Rep./Sen._____’s) support, this is possible.” This is just a part of the call script.

Not unlike almost every period-haver, I remember the day that I got mine. As soon as I stopped freaking out in fear that I was bleeding out and dying, I felt empowered, strong, and womanly. I am lucky enough to have such a supportive mom who shared her period tips and tricks with me and showed me that periods are something to celebrate. She picked me up from school, and we had a girl’s trip to lunch and the mall. I am also lucky enough to have my bathroom drawer filled to the brim with tampons and pads at all times just in case I’m early or late one month. This is something that I will never take for granted again.

Unfortunately, however, I can’t count how many times I’ve put tampons up my sleeves to hide them, or I’ve opened a tampon package as slow as possible to prevent noise, so as not to draw attention to my period because, for some reason, periods are considered shameful or disgusting by many. We have been taught that periods are gross, and we must hide them. I have checked the backs of my friend’s pants for stains, and I have heard hushed pleas for menstruation products in math class. Indeed we have all seen the movies where the poor girl walks down the hall with red-stained pants while the immature onlooker’s point, laugh and shame.

It’s enough. Enough hiding and whispering. It is time we stand up and show the world that we aren’t ashamed of our body’s natural functions. It’s time we show the world that we don’t deserve to have to pay more for products just because we are of a certain gender or just because we menstruate. Ultimately, the world must stop taxing products necessary for menstruation. It is time for a change, and I can’t wait to be a part of this critical and empowering movement. Not just for period-havers but for everyone. We all benefit when equality prevails. Let’s ditch the “rose-colored” glasses and see the inequalities before us so we can tackle them one by one. After all, not everything is “pretty in pink.”

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