“When you say you’re for ‘menstrual equity,’ it means you’re for educational equity; it means you’re for workplace equity; it means you’re for health equity.”
— Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of the 2017 book “Periods Gone Public”
Tampons and pads are necessary items that half the population must acquire a dozen times a year for about 40 years of their lives. They are not optional — a point that U.S. legislators are, evidently, beginning to recognize.
On Tuesday, Nevada joined nine states — including New York, Florida and Illinois — to eliminate the so-called tampon tax, freeing consumers of a 6.85 percent sales tax when they buy tampons and sanitary pads. Most hygiene items are taxed under state laws (deodorant and soap, for example), but, unlike these items, tampons are considered medically necessary.
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The outcome was a victory for proponents of “menstrual equity,” a phrase created by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and a movement that aims to eliminate the tampon tax and make menstrual products available to in-need populations: students and those in correctional facilities and those in shelters.
Kenya was the first nation to stop taxing menstrual products, in 2004, in part because millions of Kenyan girls and women cannot afford these products. Canada dropped the tax in 2015, and Malaysia, India and Australia followed suit this year.
In the United States, food and prescription medication are not taxed, because they are deemed “necessary.”
And yet, as Ms. Weiss-Wolf — who works with lawmakers to introduce legislation and policies to support menstrual equity — questioned when I spoke to her by phone: Are items like Viagra, Pop-Tarts and Rogaine really “necessities”?
Leaders from some states, like Utah, have shot down efforts to eliminate the tampon tax on grounds that they don’t want to pick and choose what is tax exempt. But Utah has granted this status to arcade-game tokens, for example, while other states have carved out exemptions for items such as cowboy boots (Texas), gun club memberships (Wisconsin) and chain saws (Idaho).
Women have come to accept that every aspect of our periods are “our own secret problem, and we are making other people uncomfortable if we raise it,” Ms. Weiss-Wolf said. But the truth is, she continued, raising the issue of menstrual equity “hasn’t made legislators very uncomfortable at all.”
“I went dancing the night before in a black velvet Paris gown, on one of those evenings that was the glamour of New York epitomized,” the reporter Nan Robertson wrote in a 1982 article for The New York Times Magazine. “Twenty-four hours later, I lay dying, my fingers and legs darkening with gangrene.”
The piece, about toxic shock syndrome, would earn Ms. Robertson a Pulitzer Prize.
The article explored Ms. Robertson’s agonizing encounter with the illness, which is caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus and is most closely associated with tampon use, though Ms. Robertson was postmenopausal when she fell ill.
She spent two days in a coma and two months in the hospital. She had to endure partial amputation of eight of her fingers.
Over time, she regained the use of her hands and wrote the article, which was published less than a year after she became ill.
“I have typed the thousands of words of this article, slowly and with difficulty, once again able to practice my craft as a reporter,” Ms. Robertson wrote. “I have written it — at last — with my own hands.”
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