Periods are necessary. It happens to half the population for around 40 years of their lives. But for some reason, no one really likes to talk about 'that time of the month'. It's kept on the down-low. It's taboo.
Yet 4.3billion sanitary products are used each year in the UK. Assuming a single tampon or sanitary towel costs about 10 pence a go, British women are collectively spending a whopping £430million quid every year thanks to a fact of life.
Collectively, it seems periods are pretty pricey. With this in mind, would you believe me if I told you that tampons and sanitary towels are deemed not essential enough to be tax free? Admittedly they are taxed at a reduced rate of 5% but this still means they are thought of as luxury items, which all sane females would agree they are certainly not. I don't think any woman has ever thought to herself, 'ooh I will treat myself when I pop into Boots today, I'm going to buy myself some exciting sanitary goods!'
Yes, they are reduced, implying the 'powers that be' conceded tampons are somewhat useful to women, and are not completely luxurious... But 5% is still too much, as sanitary products are 100% a necessity to women. They are certainly more of a necessity than a chocolate chip cookie which is apparently an essential item. Even a fancy-pants, marshmallow-filled, chocolate-covered teacake is zero rated according to the HMRC government website. Now that is just bizarre; I am taxed on tampons which I need, but not on a tasty teacake treat, which I will boldly state, I don't actually need. If treat-worthy biscuits aren't considered a luxury, then tampons certainly shouldn't be.
'So what?' you might be thinking, 'I like biscuits and cake.' I agree. I don't want VAT slapped on choc chip cookies either. I am just arguing that sanitary products are more essential to me than a biscuit, so why aren't they 0% rated too? It is all down to the principle and it serves to highlight the patriarchal system in which we live, where we are still battling everyday sexism.
I can only speculate, but if men had periods instead of women, I am pretty certain tampons would be completely tax free. There would be no hiding the tampon down your sleeve in the office when you need to go to the bathroom, there'd be no adverts where women are embarrassed that her date has noticed a tampon in her handbag and mistaken it for a sweetie... No doubt men would chat, share stories and laugh about it much more comfortably, and publicly.
I noticed on a recent work trip to Google's offices in London, that they have free tampons in all the women's bathrooms. I was impressed. Why haven't any other businesses thought of this? It can't be much of an expense to large, wealthy corporations and would serve to make their female staff feel that little bit more valued. I bet they could claim the VAT back too...
I know I am most certainly not alone in raising this issue, and am well aware it is an ongoing one. After much campaigning, 2001 saw the VAT rate for 'sanitary protection products' reduced from the then full rate of 17.5%, to 5% as it now still stands. Nearly 14 years on and we are still arguing that it should be reduced completely to 0%. Is it fair that you pay for something that you (and biology) can't help? It should be celebrated, by men and women. It is the reason why the human race continues. No periods, no babies.
Last month, American journalist, Jessica Valenti, got a barrage of Twitter abuse for asking this question; 'Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?'
The responses she got are so ridiculously chauvinist, petty and often nonsensical you can't help but laugh. Either that or despair. Take this response for example;
'@JessicaValenti here's a thought: get married. Then your husband can pay for it. As long as your putting out....'
Or the rather more 'maturely' thought-out retort;
'@JessicaValenti If Tampons could talk they would sound like you'
Why does Jessica's question make her the target of nasty, personalised, sexist hatred? Why don't we openly get a tampon out of our bag and head to the bathroom? Why does talking about periods on twitter cause such anger and disgust? It's not disgusting; it's completely normal, natural, and healthy. We need to create an environment where women can openly talk about their bodies and not be made to feel embarrassed by a common fact of biology.
One of the most memorable quotes on the topic was written by Germaine Greer in her book, The Female Eunuch, published in the 1970s. If Jessica Valenti's Twitter trolls couldn't stand her asking a question about tampons, they'd have an absolute field day over Greer's statement; 'if you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood - if it makes you sick, you've a long way to go, baby'.
And she's right. Forty years on from feminism's Second Wave, and clearly, we've still got a long way to go.