Wednesday 26 October 2016

Girl, uninterrupted: Sanitary wear, taxed as a luxury item, isn't cheap

Tanya Sweeney
Tanya Sweeney

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. We all knew that. But did you know quite how expensive it is to be one? Never mind the GHDs and the waxes and the gel nails, all of which we can chalk down as luxury spends.

Earlier this month, someone got the calculator out and revealed that throughout their lifetime, women spend £18,000, or almost €25,000, on having periods.

Between sanitary wear, painkillers and the odd hot water bottle, that whole rollerblading-with-the-dogs time of the month is fierce pricey.

If I'd been born a man, I could have amassed the deposit for a house in Ongar. Or Adamstown. (Actually, who am I kidding? If I were a man, the €30 a month I'd have spent on being a woman would have gone on records and games of pool. There'd have been no Ongar, womb lining or otherwise).

I'm one of the lucky ones, as I managed to shave a couple of years off my period-related outgoings. A late bloomer in almost all aspects of my life, I started menstruating when I was 16, a good four or five years after my peers (that's about €1,500 saved right there).

At the time, I was tormented about it. The only thing that tethered me to sanity was Just Seventeen's problem page, which assured me time and time again that, much like the whole boob situation, the periods would definitely, eventually come in.

My mother also reiterated that resistance was futile. "Even Madonna gets the periods," she said matter-of-factly, as she rummaged around the bathroom for a tampon one afternoon. I knew from that moment on that it was a club I very much wanted to join. Talk about the innocence and folly of youth.

Oh, the joy when I finally reached womanhood! The euphoria lasted about five minutes. After that, it became a monthly burden… like a phone call from an auntie you hate, or jury duty.

Anyway, it turns out that sanitary wear is classed as a 'luxury item' and taxed accordingly. As anyone who is either (a) a woman or (b) knows a woman well can attest, those overpriced boxes of bleached cotton are barely a luxury. If men menstruated, you could fairly assume that tampons and towels would be widely available for a pittance.

I've tried to think of a situation where men have to pay €30 a month simply by being born they way they were. Nope, nothing. Nada. Answers on a postcard, if inspiration strikes.

Advertising does a fairly good job of making us feel like tampons and sanitary pads are an aspirational purchase. All that fancy technology; dry-weave or what have you. All of it conspiring to distract women from the fact that they're effectively paying a 'women's tax' through the nose.

Even more intriguingly, a University of Florida study brought the female tax situation to light, noting that, on average, women's deodorants were pieced higher than men's, when the only discernible difference was scent.

From haircuts and razors to perfume and shoes, there is a discernible price gap on gendered products. Women pay more.

Think about it though: without the 'luxury' of Bodyform or Tampax, we'd be facing down the end of days. The breakdown of civilisation. What's the alternative… to just, aherm, let it flow? There would be absolute chaos.

Earlier this year, Kiran Ghandi ran the London marathon while 'free bleeding', in order to break the taboo about periods.

At the finish line, she stood proudly wearing her medal and her blood-stained jogging pants. Many denounced her as disgusting, which says a helluva lot more about society than it does about Ghandi. Of the online fallout, during which she copped an unholy amount of flak, she said: "You see, culture is happy to speak about and objectify the parts of the body that can be sexually consumed by others, but the moment we talk about something that is not for the enjoyment of others, like a period, everyone becomes deeply uncomfortable. Women's bodies don't exist for public consumption."


So as not to squeam the patriarchy out too much, we women have done a stellar job of keeping stoic about the whole period thing.

Few women past transition-year age have used period cramps as an excuse to get out of anything in life (mainly because we're not doing PE anymore).

Period pains are what they are, though take it from me, they really are an absolute horror. For one day a month, things get absolutely medieval round my way. If it's a work day, I pop some Buscopan and hope for the best. If not, I'm given free reign to stagger around my living room, mooing away like a bear in labour.

I've done the maths... I've only about another 210 periods to go until they're done for good! Or, if you'd like to look at it another way, €6,300.

But in the main, we women get on with life, and keep the periods out of polite, water-cooler discussion. The 'blood' in the TV ads for tampos is blue water, for God's sake. That's how weirded out about it all we are.

And, of course, some misogynistic pockets of society lose the rag (sorry) altogether at the mere mention of blood: Louelle Denor posted an Instagram picture of her menstrual blood, and met with some serious haters.

"Kill yourself now plz," wrote one poster.

Funnily enough, no one ever seems to have that reaction to blood they see on other people's bodies on account of, hm, violence, or death, or war. Funny old world, isn't it?

The fact is, without icky periods, you simply wouldn't be here. We spend that €25,000 over a lifetime to make our time of the month easier, true - but also to protect the rest of society from the 'offensive' sight of menstrual blood.

It's definitely something to keep in mind next time you see a woman wearing pristine white jeans, out rollerblading with her dogs, with nary a care in the world.

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