The "tampon tax" and the dismissal of women's health
On Monday, October 26, a motion was brought forward by the Labour party in the UK to remove the tax on female sanitary products, but was defeated by three conservative MPs. The tax, which was dropped from 17.5% in 1973 to 5% in 2000, but tampons and pads are still considered "luxury items"--yes, apparently it is considered a luxury not to bleed through one's pants every month. In the US, the so-called "tampon tax" varies state by state (California, Wisconsin, and New York being some of the states that impose the tax). This taxing of women's health items is just one example of the ways in which government policies attempt to ignore or actively dismiss women's health needs. As is evident in the recent attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, it has been made clear to women in the US that their bodies exist to be controlled and regulated, and their health needs disregarded. This blatant lack of concern for women's health is closely intertwined with the trend in medical care of belittling women's pain. Women's health concerns are often lazily attributed by doctors to menstruation when a more serious medical issue is actually occurring but is not treated or even considered, due to the fact that the patient is a woman (a great but disturbing article regarding this issue was recently published in the Atlantic and can be found here http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/emergency-room-wait-times-sexism/410515/). But what infuriates me the most, to revisit the tampon tax, is the treatment of menstruation as something that is not a "real" medical or health issue. When it comes to women who do not have the means to pay for menstrual supplies (and this does not just include women living in poverty--as a college student, I can say eleven dollars for a box of tampons is indeed expensive!), are they to be expected by the politicians who institute the tax to menstruate each month without proper supplies? There is of course the issue of homeless women who have no way of purchasing menstrual health supplies. The fact that an item crucial to the care of one's own body is taxed as a "luxury" is demonstrative of the widespread attitude towards menstruation and women's bodies in general. Women are widely objectified sexually, and the media makes a huge profit off of this sexualization. But once women demand proper health care and assistance in acquiring that care, their needs are deemed excessive and burdensome, or are even condemned (i.e. abortion, birth control) or stigmatized. Cultural attitudes and laws and policies go hand-in-hand in denying women the care they need, and this needs to change. The destigmatization of women's bodies, and menstruation in particular, is crucial for women to get the care they need and deserve.