They’re there. In the trolley. With the pork loins, the lemon curd and the Hovis Best of Both. You unload your items onto the conveyer belt with frenzied haste, concealing that little box of disgrace in a tent-like structure of sausages. The structural integrity of the sausage-packet-tent is compromised as the conveyer belt jerks forwards. It finally collapses when the spotty youth at the checkout seizes a packet to scan. The little box of disgrace screams and screams, and you, the spotty boy and the man behind you are humiliated. You pay, avoiding all eye contact, and thrust your box of tampons into a carrier bag, out of sight.
Sadly, this decidedly ridiculous scenario isn’t far from the collective female humiliation of having to buy sanitary items. Every time we purchase a box of tampons or sanitary towels, embarrassment is thick in the air, if not from us from those facilitating the transaction. The same can be said for having to ask staff to restock the toilet vending machine, or stuff your crotch full of tissue. Or having to excuse yourself from a meeting or a lecture or an interview, handbag in tow; oh, she’s ‘on,’ everybody realises in mild disgust. Not to mention the mortification of starting your period mid-sex. ‘But it’s only blood!’ you call after him as he bolts down the stairs with his shirt on backwards. All of this feeds into the culture that is period apology; I’m so sorry for my treacherous womb and I’m so sorry for the way it discharges blood once a month. The prevalence of period apology culture makes it difficult for us to talk about the absurdity that is tax on women’s sanitary protection products.
Women’s sanitary protection products have a VAT rate of 5%. Great, only 5%! You would think. Actually, no. We’re still being taxed, and on items that are essential. More essential, you might argue, than military aeroplanes, the sale of which accumulates 0% VAT. Or lottery ticket sales, exempt from VAT altogether. Mysteriously, condoms, which are also taxed at 5%, are free and abundant in any family planning clinic. Funny that.
HM Revenue and Customs tell us that, ‘the reduced rate applies to the supply of any sanitary protection product that is designed and marketed (note the bold font) solely for the absorption or collection of menstrual flow or lochia.’ Let us bear this in mind whilst we talk about the design, marketing and advertising of sanitary protection. Always, one of the leading manufacturers of sanitary products, are ingenious. Those cute tin cases they sold us to pop our pads in were so noble in their purpose; never again would the hideous faux-pas of a visible sanitary towel plague our businesses, our schools, our streets! And oh my, let us not forget the Always Radiant Infinity collection, for an ‘out of sight period.’ Thank you Always, for concealing our shocking secret. I think my personal favourite is the Always scented range. Since the purpose of this ingenious product extends beyond ‘the absorption or collection of menstrual flow or lochia’ and gives my vagina a heady aroma of sea breeze, or new car, the VAT I pay is increased. Always have a happy period? Always have a happy profit. And Always perpetuate period apology culture.
There are efforts to quash the expenses attributed to sanitary protection, and the string of apology attached. Free The Tampons is a non-profit campaign which encourages businesses to stock free tampons in their bathrooms. Founder Nancy Kramer asks the question: ‘Who decided that toilet paper was free but tampons weren’t?’ Whilst the question was probably rhetorical, why don’t we credit it with an answer?
Remember the supermarket checkout; who facilitated your transaction of disgrace? Who bolted it down the stairs away from the pyroclastic flow of your menstrual blood? Isn’t the CEO of Proctor & Gamble, the daddy company of Always, also a man? Funny that.