Guardian Columnist Gets Attacked for Suggesting Tampons Should Be Free

What Women Really Think
Aug. 11 2014 1:10 PM

Guardian Columnist Gets Attacked for Suggesting Tampons Should Be Free

woman_buying_pad
What if she can't afford tampons and pads?

Photo by Art Allianz/Shutterstock

Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti kicked off the week with a provocative argument: In order to reduce the financial and social burden menstruation puts on women, "women’s feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time." For those of us who can easily afford tampons and sanitary pads, this might seem like a silly idea, but, as Valenti points out, for women living in "countries where sanitary products are inaccessible or unaffordable," the lack of access means missing work or school, getting infections from reusing the same rags without cleaning them, and even dropping out of school because your period causes you to fall so far behind in your studies. But while that's more of a problem in developing countries, even in places like the United States, the high price of tampons means "some women resort to selling their food stamps in order to pay for 'luxuries' like tampons." 

I read Valenti's piece less as a policy proposal and more as an attempt to reframe public understanding of menstruation. By starting with a provocative suggestion that tampons should be free, Valenti is asking audiences to really think about how the right to move about in public without bleeding all over yourself, a no-brainer for men, is a privilege for women that depends all too much on their ability to afford sanitary products. Odds are that tampons will never be free for all women everywhere in the world, but thought experiments like Valenti’s can open the door to possibilities that make life a little more fair for women: repealing sales taxes on tampons, providing tampon subsidies to low-income women, putting free bowls of tampons into workplace bathrooms, pushing for innovations to lower the expense of sanitary products, or offering tampons for free to girls and women in some developing countries so they don't miss school or work because of their periods.    

Advertisement

Unfortunately, "the idea of women even getting small tax breaks for menstrual products provokes incredulousness because some people lack an incredible amount of empathy ... and because it has something to do with vaginas," Valenti writes. And she’s not just speculating. When Valenti was doing research for her piece, she innocently asked on Twitter, "Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?" Merely asking the question triggered an unbelievable—and unbelievably misogynist—stream of abuse on Twitter aimed at Valenti. Robyn Wilder at BuzzFeed collected some of the tweets, most of which centered on the idea that women's bodies are extremely disgusting and that women should not offer opinions about things women might need. 

The abuse seems to have been kicked off by the right-wing blog Twitchy. "Jessica Valenti is looking for a place to score free tampons," the site’s headline reads. Not that any of her critics will pick up on this, but there's a deep irony here. By targeting Valenti for abuse for even bringing up the issue of free tampons, anti-feminists ended up proving Valenti's point: Menstrual products are treated like luxury items that you "score" instead of medical devices that you need because there's so much cultural discomfort with women's bodies. 

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 12 2014 7:24 PM Come and Take It Libertarians fight for people whose property was seized by the police.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Outward
Sept. 12 2014 3:32 PM Yes, Those Straight Guys Who Wed for Rugby Tickets Are Mocking Marriage. What’s New?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?