A giant step forward for women, or an empty publicity stunt meant to soothe the souls of New York progressives? That’s the question when it comes to the latest “victory” in what’s known as the war for menstrual equity.
When New York City became the first in the country to mandate free tampons in public schools, prisons, and homeless shelters, supporters were thrilled. “New York City made history for menstrual equity with the passage of this legislation—and the rest of the country, and the world, should follow,” wrote Jennifer Weiss-Wolf of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. “Periods have been stigmatized for far too long,” explained Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the legislation.
The argument for menstrual equity has been around since at least the late 1970s when Gloria Steinem wrote a satiric look at “true” menstrual balance—as in, imagining that men bled once a month, just like women. You see, there is a cosmic injustice at work in the world when women are “afflicted” with a monthly period and men are not, the argument goes. Since feminists haven’t figured out a way to change human biology, they now argue that the affliction is financial since in many places in the United States, women are taxed for the privilege of using sanitary napkins and tampons. Advocates declare the need for redress since there is an alleged tax inequity since products like adult diapers, Viagra, and Rogaine are not taxed. And so we have dozens of states pushing legislation to reduce or remove taxes on “pink” consumer goods like feminine hygiene products.
Lowering taxes on any goods is a victory for all consumers, regardless of whether they are purchasing tampons or tapioca. But the argument that women endure a special burden because they have a period every month and therefore need special treatment under the law—namely, free feminine products—is another indication of how far the women’s movement has strayed from tackling genuine problems of discrimination.
There are women in countries and cultures outside the United States dealing with bigotry and bias—female genital mutilation, honor killings, rape as a weapon of terrorism, slavery, denial of a basic education, and forced conversion, to name a few. The so-called inequity of women having to spend money to stem their monthly flow doesn’t even make the list of real world problems for most women. And yet, American feminists’ focus remains firmly on their #firstworldproblem of “menstrual equity”.
When New York City makes tampons and pads available for free in public schools and prisons and homeless shelters, the city is treating a natural occurrence as a unique political category. All women bleed once a month (except if you are pregnant or post-menopause), and yet it is only minority women, women of color, disadvantaged or poor women who are treated like children who can’t be trusted to take care of themselves. As for eliminating the “Tampon Tax,” feminists aren’t getting rid of anything—they are merely redistributing the tax burden by ensuring that other people’s taxes will have to be increased to pay for the free goods and services feminists want to provide for supposedly helpless women. That might be good P.R. for feminist groups, but it’s not good for women.