The Tampon Tax: Why Treat a Necessity like a Luxury? (Op-Ed)

Feminine hygiene has consistently been battered and bashed throughout the history of mankind. Menstruation has acquired a negative stigma, thus causing an ostracization of a larger portion of the population. This innate contempt of menstruation weaved itself into our businesses and advertising, resulting in biased pricing and taxation on feminine hygiene products. This taxation was dubbed the “Tampon Tax,” although it often is used as an umbrella term referring to all feminine hygiene products. The Tampon Tax is the culmination of prejudices against cisgender women as well as trans people. Feminine hygiene products should not be taxed because they are not a luxury, but a necessity that burdens half the population.

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Image via CNN Money

The Tampon Tax, however, is not the only biased pricing issue that affects many people. In correlation to the Tampon Tax, the “Pink Tax” also places a higher prices on many feminine items. These items include hair products designed for women, women’s clothing, women’s toiletries, and more. A 2015 study of gendered pricing released by New York City Department of Consumer Affairs concluded that, overall, women’s products cost 42% more than men’s. The study also noted that women’s shampoo and conditioner averaged out to be 48% more expensive than men’s, and women’s jeans cost 10% more (Taylor). Why is it that products targeted for women, luxury or not, are typically more expensive? As Dasha Burns, writer and strategist at Oliver Global, states, “…this goes beyond the dollar amount. This is institutional and systematic sexism. It’s harming women financially and reflecting a deeper sentiment regarding (or disregarding) women’s bodies” (Burns). Women’s appearances are more often targeted in media and advertising than men’s. Rarely do we see commercials for men’s razors, face wash, and cosmetics. Instead, women are bombarded with countless amounts of commercials and advertisements attacking their appearances. Women are forced to frequently buy expensive beauty-related products. If they do not, they run the risk of being deemed “undesirable” or “dirty”. This sexist method of marketing affects women financially, mentally, and physically, as well. The Tampon Tax epitomizes this sexism through the taxation of products vital for proper feminine hygiene and health.

On top of these ridiculous taxes, women are often paid less than their male counterparts. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that a 2015 study found that female full-time workers made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, thus creating a 20% wage gap (iwpr.org). So, not only do women have to pay more, on average, for most cosmetic and hygienic products, but women are generally paid less. The female population is endowed with these financial duties at the hands of our patriarchal society. Women have been raised to accept these inequalities, to accept that complaining about them is absurd. However, society has consistently limited women in their ability to further themselves. Due to the lack of men in the country to fill necessary jobs, women only officially entered the workforce during and after World War II (Samuelson). We still feel the effects of this systematic sexism today, since women are still expected to partake in occupations related to care-giving instead of science and math. Less than 25% of STEM jobs are occupied by women today. Even women with degrees in STEM related fields are more likely to go into healthcare or education than a job directly linked to their degree (Beede). Women are obviously just as capable as their male counterparts at STEM jobs, especially if they have a degree in it, but they are reduced to always just being the caregiver. Women are pegged as emotional consumers, and they have to pay for it. Literally. 

Besides the sexist roots of the Tampon Tax, there are other reasons to question why tampons are taxed in the first place. Tampons are not a “luxury.” They are a necessity. Tampons are not just a one and done item. Tampons need to be replaced every 4-8 hours, and menstruation can last up to a week. That’s a lot of tampons—about 9120 over a lifetime, actually. On average, 70% of women use tampons, and those 70% of women will spend, on average, about $1,773.33 in her lifetime on tampons (Kane). This price does not include the taxes. This price does not take into account households that have to supply tampons for multiple women and therefore, are in need of more tampons. In my household, we have four women that live there, and all four of us menstruate. Let’s just say, we run out of tampons often! Luckily, my family lives in Pennsylvania, one of the few states that does not tax tampons (pacode.com). The others include: Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York (newsweek.com). In addition to this, five other states do not have a sales tax at all, they are: Oregon, Montana, Delaware New Hampshire, and Alaska (Larimer). However, that means that 39 states in the United States do tax tampons.

Many argue that tampons should be taxed due to the fact that toilet paper is often subjected to taxes, as well. There are only two states that do not tax toilet paper or tampons despite requiring a statewide sales tax: Pennsylvania and New Jersey (Larimer). However, the question here is not why toilet paper is taxed, it is why tampons are taxed. Toilet paper is a necessity, and therefore it should not be taxed. Yet, all genders need toilet paper. Only half of the country’s population is subject to menstruation and, therefore, subject to the financial burden that comes with it. Although it is not logical for toilet paper to be taxed, it is more just within the grand scheme of the world.

The Tampon Tax is especially detrimental to women of lower economic standing. Tampons are not covered by food stamps, so many women must go the extra mile in order to provide themselves as well as their family with this necessary item. Sue Kerr, the founder and editor of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, recounted a time she realized the true horror that women who could not afford feminine hygiene products had to endure.

“At 25… I learned that women and girls who could not afford these products used rags. And because they did not have a lot of resources for laundry, they either burned or buried the rags. Several years later, I learned how women who are homeless in urban environments also used rags or simply bled through their clothing until they could throw those items away and get new (donated) clothing. Beyond lacking actual products, they often have no access to a sanitary bathroom or any facility with the privacy to take care of this biological need.”

These women’s health and hygiene is compromised due to the fact they can not afford products to keep themselves clean. For homeless women, this issue is one that they have to confront every month. Clean showers are scarce, bathrooms are heavily restricted, and feminine hygiene products are rarely donated to homeless shelters. Many homeless women have just come to accept these inequalities as a result of their situation (Goldberg). The Tampon Tax is a burden for all people who menstruate. However, for those who cannot afford these necessities, the Tampon Tax becomes a barrier between them and an average, clean life.

This article has focused mostly on the Tampon Tax’s specific effect on women, yet the Tampon Tax affects the trans community as well. The trans community is, more often than not, overlooked as far as social and economic issues go. The trans community consists of many different gender identities, and many of those within the community have uteruses… Ergo, they menstruate as well. The Tampon Tax is not a “women’s issue.” The tampon tax is a people’s issue. It is an American issue.

The Tampon Tax has become a major controversy within today’s current politics, but it shouldn’t be. The Tampon Tax is an unfair financial duty that only affects a certain portion of the population. The tax is rooted deep within our country’s history of systematic sexism. Overall, the Tampon Tax is an unjust demand that targets and attacks the large portion of the population that menstruate. Feminine hygiene is a necessity. Menstruation is not a luxury, so it should not be treated as such.

Article by Mia Zappacosta.

Works Cited

“061 Pa. Code § 9.2. Sales and Use Tax Changes.” 061 Pa. Code § 9.2. Sales and Use Tax Changes. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/061/chapter9/s9.2.html

Bead, David, Tiffany Julian, David Langdon, George McKittrick, Beethika Khan, and Mark Doms. “Women in STEM – United States Department of Commerce.” Economics and Statistics Administration. United States Department of Commerce, n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2016. http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/womeninstemagaptoinnovation8311.pdf

Goldberg, Eleanor. “For Homeless Women, Getting Their Period Is One Of The Most Difficult Challenges.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 07 Nov. 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/14/homeless-women-tampons_n_6465230.html

Jones, Abigail. “New York Terminates the Tampon Tax.” Newsweek. Newsweek LLC, 21 July 2016. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. http://www.newsweek.com/new-york-tampon-tax-cuomo-periods-tampons-menstruation-donald-trump-482918

Kane, Jessica. “Here’s How Much A Woman’s Period Will Cost Her Over A Lifetime.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 May 2015. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/18/period-cost-lifetime_n_7258780.html

Kerr, Sue. “If You Can’t Afford Tampons, What Do You Do?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 May 2014. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sue-kerr/if-you-cant-afford-tampons-what-do-you-do_b_5352396.html

Larimer, Sarah. “The ‘tampon Tax,’ Explained.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 8 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/the-tampon-tax-explained/

“Pay Equity & Discrimination.” IWPR. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2010. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination

Sahadi, Jeanne. “Is the ‘tampon Tax’ an Unfair Tax on Women?” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Nov. 2016. http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/29/pf/taxes/tampon-tax/

Samuelson, Robert J. “What’s the Real Gender Pay Gap?” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/whats-the-real-gender-pay-gap/2016/04/24/314a90ee-08a1-11e6-bdcb-0133da18418d_story.html?utm_term=.dac4d09e17a1

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