December 2016 saw period poverty come to light with the release of Ken Loaches I, Daniel Blake. One scene where a struggling single mother shoplifting some sanitary towels sparked the interests with a range of people – soon food banks were over run with donations of tampons and pads.
Later in March of the following year media headlines read of school girls in Leeds missing time off school due to not being able to buy necessary menstrual products. Girls as young as 10, routinely miss school and chose to stay home rather than bleed in their school uniforms in front of their peers. Sometimes these girls will use old socks stuffed with tissue, newspaper or old torn tee-shirts to pad themselves. In their families, menstrual products are a luxury that is not affordable. Though many people would argue against a period being luxurious.
The government still has yet to take action on this type of poverty that effects so many women of all ages across the United Kingdom.
A major issue is that these products are taxed as a ‘luxury’ for U.K. households, meaning that an extra 5% is applied to the retail price. Before a campaign led by Labour MP Dawn Primarolo in 2000, the tax was 17.5% but the campaign saw the level dropped.
What really seems to rub me the wrong way about this is that McVitties Jaffa Cakes, along with cakes and non chocolate covered biscuits, are seen as an essential item for the average household and are therefore exempt from tax. I am not suggesting that the ever so absorbent Jaffa be an alternative for a tampon but there seems to be some sort of confusion about what the term ‘essential’ actually means.
According to Emily Dinsmore, writing for Spiked about tampons becoming a basic right, she said that; ‘If tampons are a basic right, I’d like to propose a few more hygiene products to be added to the bill. How about toilet roll? It costs us approximately 25p per roll for a supermarket brand – a product that your average (clean-ish) man and woman will use daily…If women up and down the country are struggling to fork out one pound for a box of 32 tampons from popular supermarkets (that’s about 3p per tampon), then purses from Leeds to London must really be feeling the squeeze when it comes to loo roll.’ She also goes on to ponder that not only girls under the age of 18 suffer from these types of poverty. ’What about razors for teenage boys sprouting their first moustache, or teenage girls having their first battle with hairy legs? When I was 14 years old, I definitely considered having access to a razor the night before PE class to be a basic right.’ Why is it that there are some women who are so opposed to the concept of ‘period poverty’?
One slight issue is what exactly period poverty consists of. It is not just that some people cannot afford to buy sanitary products but rather that there seems to be different levels of the same products. These cheaper products are less comfortable and supportive meaning they can leak or generally be irritating to wear. That is where the root issue lies. Teenage girls are surprisingly comfortable to sit and bleed with these lesser, though more affordable, products in front of their peers in fear of leaking in their uniforms. It is for this reason that they decide to skip school.
Working off of Dinsmore’s point about toilet paper and razors it could be said that these ‘essentials’ should be made equally well. They all serve the same function for each user; toilet paper for wiping without irritating, razors to leave skin smooth without grazing or cutting and tampons and pads for absorbing blood without leaking or irritating. If these products where made equally as well and sold at the same retail price that was affordable, it would mean that these sorts of issues would not exist. However the very nature of capitalism would not allow this as there is no major profit margin to be gained through this compassionate act.
There is also the issue of if men had periods, menstrual products would be given freely in fast food meals like Happy Meal toys or thrown from parade floats like Mardi Gras beads. Menstrual care is a basic human right and we need to remove the stigma and the shame around the topic of periods.
For starters advertising needs to change how it depicts periods. Enough of women walking around in ‘unfeminine’ clothing until they are suddenly transformed into rock climbers with white shorts on to demonstrate that they are now able to function ‘normally’ due to this socially enforced sense that no one knows you are on your period. Also the use of the mysterious blue liquid that cascades down from the sky in demonstrations of just how absorbent pads are needs to stop. Why not use red liquid to perhaps show…you know, what it is actually going to look like? Hiding behind smoke and metaphors does not protect people from the realities which are human bodies. An easy answer is that children might see the adverts and become scared or concerned. Well, the girls watching are going to be more concerned when in a few years they themselves are going through their first periods. And boys watching the adverts should not be hidden from the truth either, raising children in separation of each of the other genders body changes through puberty leads to the sort of closed off and regressive attitudes toward how we discuss puberty and in particular periods as a society.
This does not only stop here in these adverts for menstrual products themselves but it leaks into other types of advertising aimed at women. Yoghurt adverts often refer to feeling bloated as part of their pitch regarding how eating a yoghurt will make you feel better and that the good bacteria in them is necessary to maintaining your day to day routine (ever wonder why Gok Won, the man whose brand it is telling you that you are not quite good enough, is selling you Activia?)
The last issue with the stigma of periods is that trans men (people who are born with female bodies but identify as men) often feel a sense of shame that comes with the term ‘feminine care products’ and the lack of bins in mens public toilets. Dysmorphia (BDD) is a common issue faced by trans people, which makes sense. However the argument that by referring to products for menstrual care as ‘feminine’ detaches them from this discussion. By changing how products are manufactured, advertised and sold is only half of the battle. The rest comes down to educating people and having open discussions about these topics (stopping referring to them as ‘issues’ could be considered a good start) regarding menstruation in all forms of women.
Period poverty is not an issue that should be facing a first world nation like the U.K., however we are seeing the eduction of girls being stolen away from them because nature happens. There are ways to solve the issue but there is no quick fix, governments need to start actually helping people with day to day life.
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