Tampons Should Be Free

A landmark bill to require public facilities like schools and shelters to provide free period products is the first in the nation, but shouldn't be the last.

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Tampons Should Be Free
Photo:Liudmila Chernetska (Getty Images)

If you have periods in the United States of America, and you don’t enjoy bleeding all over yourself in public, you have been subjected to the Tampon Tax. It’s unfair, and it’s got to go.

On Monday, the Massachusetts state Senate passed the “I Am” bill, which would require all public schools, shelters, and even prisons and correctional facilities to provide free and easily accessible period products. The bill would be the first of its kind in the nation—Mass NOW, the state’s National Organization for Women chapter, notes that while at least 11 states have laws that make menstrual products free in schools, just five states have made them free in jails. Only one state—Illinois—requires them to be offered in shelters. And despite recent progress in dozens of states to repeal the tampon tax, which mind-bogglingly attaches a luxury tax to period products, at least 28 states continue to tax these products.

Massachusetts’ bill is an important win, but it’s also a frustrating one, as it begs the question of why tampons and menstrual hygiene products aren’t just free in all public spaces to begin with. The answer to this question, of course, is rampant period stigma and government “fiscal conservatism” that seems to selectively apply to basic health needs for women and menstruating people.

Eliminating the period tax is a decent starting point to address the inaccessibility of menstrual hygiene products. The sales tax on them can be as high as 10% on top of the sticker price of a box of tampons, and experts have pointed out the tax can force a family to choose between food and menstrual products—they’ll often understandably choose the former. The consequences of being unable to afford or access menstrual products are enormous: Girls and young people who menstruate are inclined to miss school, adults can miss work, and lack of access to clean sanitary products can increase someone’s risk of dangerous infections, cervical cancer, and other health conditions. All of this, of course, is on top of the discomfort and sometimes debilitating pain of menstruating in general.

Access to menstrual hygiene products is even more strained if not impossible for incarcerated people and those experiencing homelessness. Despite how federal law requires federal prisons to offer period products, state and city-run prisons and jails aren’t held to this standard. Some incarcerated people earn just $0.75 or even less from prison labor per day, and in some prisons, costs of menstrual products can range from $2.63 for 24 pads, to $4 for just eight tampons.

All of this is to say: Period products in schools, shelters, prisons, and public facilities at no cost should be a no-brainer, and we should all be outraged that this isn’t already a thing. Being a woman or being able to menstruate and become pregnant is wildly expensive in this country, whether it’s the race and gender wage gap, women’s grooming products costing more than men’s for zero reason, or women—particularly queer women and women of color—being significantly more likely to experience poverty than men. On top of all of this bullshit, no one should have to worry about how they’ll afford a maxi pad, too.

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