This Summer I worked for a Law & Policy organization called Period Equity. Period Equity is an organization that fights for all kinds of issues surrounding menstrual equity, but currently our main focus is on getting rid of the luxury sales tax on tampons and other menstrual products. While Period Equity is an American organization, I believe the information in this article is just as relevant to students in the UK who want change, especially given that Tampons are not exempt from tax here either. While most of the information pertains to U.S. data, the fundamental arguments remain the same.
If you’re having trouble drafting a response to the politician who told you that getting rid of the tampon tax is impractical/ unaffordable, or you’re having a fight with your dad at the dinner table, or you’re just sick and tired of mansplaining, this blog post is for you. Here’s a list of the most common objections to eliminating the tampon tax, and what you can say in response:
1. It would cost too much.
Seriously? Fundamentally, the choice to continue taxing women for having their periods (on the grounds it would cost too much to get rid of the tax) sends a message to women and to society: You aren’t worth the cost.
When an item goes from being taxed to becoming exempt, the state loses money. In order to make up for lost revenue, states often hike up the tax on other products. Obviously, nobody wants to pay more for anything.
However, the purpose of sales tax exemptions is to ensure that everybody is able to afford basic necessities like food and life-saving medication. It would be difficult to argue that menstrual products are a luxury and not a necessity, given that women (and everyone who menstruates) are forced to skip work or school every month when they don’t have access to the products they need.
If women are missing out on important educational content or opportunities to advance their careers, or even risking various infections when they use rags or dish towels because they don’t have access to better menstrual products, it’s pretty clear that tampons are not a luxury item.
We all pay a little extra in taxes to ensure that everyone can afford food, medicine and other things we need to survive, so why should tampons be excluded from this list when they’re used by half the population, every month of every year? As Siebel Newsom (wife of California’s governor) put it, “In California, we are fighting for a future where our daughters will be valued equally to our sons.”
2. The Slippery Slope argument
Eleven states already don’t tax tampons and we haven’t heard any threats of bankruptcy, have you?
Opponents of exempting the tampon tax worry that if we exempt tampons, this will inspire other groups to seek additional exemptions, and eventually the state will go bankrupt. This is called a slippery slope argument which is a well-known logical fallacy, arguing that a small first step will create a domino effect and ultimately lead to disaster.
While it is true that in some states people have started to advocate for the exemption of diapers as well as tampons, this argument is an exaggeration of the consequences of eliminating the tampon tax. A few states have already dropped the tampon tax and no such disaster has occurred.
Meanwhile, if states are worried about lost revenue, they could consider raising the excise tax on alcohol distributors of hard liquor, as CA Assemblymember Cristina Garcia proposed in 2017. If passed, the bill would’ve raised an estimated $72 million for California (more than offsetting the cost of exempting tampons from sales tax), while also discouraging alcoholism, and costing less than 2 cents more per drink. As Garcia explained, “No one claims liquor is a basic necessity of life. My period is not optional. There is no happy hour for menstruation.”
If you don’t like the idea of making alcohol more expensive, there are numerous alternatives. In all of the 35 remaining U.S. states there are items that are currently exempt from sales tax which are clearly less necessary than tampons, including some that are primarily used by men, such as gun club memberships, golf club memberships, private jet parts, hair growth products, Viagra, and more. Finally, as of 2018, most states are now collecting sales tax on online sales. We shouldn’t be too worried about state bankruptcy after all.
3. Taking money away from the state hurts poor women.
Approximately 1% of state spending goes towards low income assistance programs.
Some people argue that it’s better not to take away money from the state which could potentially be used to fund programs that benefit poor women.
First, even if eliminating the tampon tax benefitted the wealthiest women as well as the poorest women, so do other sales tax exemptions, and poorer women are benefitting regardless.
Second, though, a study in New Jersey found the opposite to be the case: low income women “bear a larger burden of tampon taxes than high income-women.” This may be in part because higher-income women can buy menstrual products in bulk and at a lower cost. Thus, low-income women would benefit more from the tax exemption, making menstrual products far more affordable for everyone.
Even so, eliminating the tampon tax is not only about lifting the financial burden on women. As Jennifer Weiss-Wolf (Period Equity co- founder ) points out in her book ‘Periods Gone Public; Taking a Stand for
Menstrual Equity’, this fight is also about “challeng[ing] laws that are archaic, unfair, and discriminatory” as well as “getting people to talk and think about the wider implications of menstruation – social, economic, and otherwise – in our policy making.”
Regardless, state revenue is mostly spent on public education, healthcare, public transportation and correctional facilities. While these are important and worthy causes, they are not directly serving poor or homeless women. Eliminating the tampon tax would likely benefit lower income women more than continuing to give that money to the state, which would just as likely use it, as Tennesee did, to benefit its “hunters and shooters” by removing its gun ammunition tax.
4. Tampons are not as necessary as prescription drugs.
Are tampons less necessary than Viagra? It’s unlikely you would die if you didn’t use menstrual products, and we understand tampons are not as essential as insulin, for example. But Viagra? Really? In what world is treating male impotence more necessary than women’s health, cleanliness and ability to fully participate in society? While menstruation is not a disease or illness, that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to classify tampons and pads as grooming products, reducing them to the same level of necessity as a hairbrush or nail polish. Furthermore, “why do we need to harken to other bodily functions to validate our needs at all? Shouldn’t it be enough to state that menstruation stands apart and requires its own, unique set of interventions?” (Jennifer Weiss-Wolf)
5. Tampons are not as necessary as food.
True, but why should anyone have to choose? Some states still tax groceries. How can we argue that tampons are more important than food? We can’t. We’re not arguing that tampons are more necessary than food, just that they are as necessary, or at least necessary enough to be tax exempt. Poor women are often put in a position of having to choose between grocery items and menstrual products because they can’t afford both. No one should have to make that choice.
Politicians can continue to complain about lost revenue and the need for fiscally sound state budgets, but there will always be other sources of revenue that don’t tax women for their biology. Menstruation is not a choice, and menstrual products are not luxuries or grooming products to make us look pretty or feel better about ourselves. Tampons are necessary for our health and ability to function as crucial members of society, and we should not have to pay extra for that fundamental right.