When I first got my period, my mother congratulated me, and then immediately started giving me tips on how to hide it from the world. This attitude about periods and women’s bodies manifests itself in society in a number of ways.
A few weeks ago, Chicago got rid of the tampon tax and everyone who menstruates rejoiced. Haven’t heard of a tampon tax? Let me tell you. It’s a “luxury” tax on tampons and other feminine hygiene products — products that essentially everyone who gets a period needs to buy. Side note: While the majority of people who get periods are women, it’s important to remember that some people who identify as women don’t menstruate and some people who don’t identify as women do.
Chicago’s city council voted to reclassify the feminine hygiene products as “medical necessities.” Before this, they were classified as luxury items, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so maddening. Many say menstrual items should be free, with arguments such as, “Sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being and full participation of women and girls across the globe.”
At the very least, these items should not be taxed. Chicago’s vote is a minor change and only got rid of the city tax. However, the action is symbolic and puts the city at the forefront of the national movement to stop taxing these basic necessities. The luxury tax, which is still in almost every state, acts as a penalty on those who have periods.
The Huffington Post did the math and figured out that the average woman will spend almost $20,000 on her period in her lifetime — as if we need more problems on top of the discomfort, pain and inconvenience that periods bring. This is another financial burden on top of the fact that we get charged more for regular items compared to men while also getting paid less.
Basically, society says we must never acknowledge that women have blood coming out of our vaginas multiple times a year, but the only way to do this is to spend a lot of time, money and effort to hide normal bodily functions. We must hide it for the benefit of other people, so that they aren’t uncomfortable or embarrassed. This is nonsense.
The shame women face is to an even greater extent in other countries, specifically in the third world. Some girls have to miss school when they’re menstruating, which often leads to higher drop-out rates.
“Not only are these girls dealing with a lack of materials, they are also stigmatized by cultural attitudes that regard menstruating women and girls as dirty,” says Dorah Egunyu of The Guardian.
Obviously, normal bodily functions should not interfere with opportunities like education. Not to mention that the negative mental health effects that come with being shamed to stay away from the rest of society. For some, like in Nepal, women are labeled as untouchable when they’re menstruating and are put in animal sheds, away from everyone else. The women are shunned and dehumanized, and have no protection from “drunken men who conveniently forget about untouchability when it comes to rape,” says Rose George of Jezebel.
Normalizing periods and women’s bodies will help women all over the world. Many badass, awesome women are working toward this, but it’s still not enough. We need basic changes in legislation, like the end of the tampon tax, as well as more body awareness and acceptance for women’s bodies. We need to stop teaching our children that they must hide their period and end the stigma and misconceptions that can be found everywhere in society.
We need open discussions about periods and all that comes with it. The next time someone mentions they have cramps, don’t recoil in horror or run away (yes, I’ve seen this happen) — just sympathize and treat it like any other bodily function.
I’ll leave you with this. Periods are normal. Tampons are normal. Chicago took a good step for normalization within society, but we can certainly do more.
Gifs courtesy of Giphy.
Collegian Writer Catie Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @perrycatie.