Perspective: Let’s call it what it is, a menstruation fee

The least-used app on my phone is probably the most important in helping me function as a woman who works outside of my home. I only open it a handful of times each month and it was free to download, yet it has proven its value many times over. I’m always grateful for its darling notification chime, reminding me to check my bag and make sure I have two disposable pads and at least one fabric pad tucked alongside my textbooks and Bluetooth keyboard.

The last thing I need to ruin my day is an unexpected period and no supplies, especially when I’m headed out into the world with the two small children that I nanny. It is the necessity of these products, the absolute inability of a menstruating person to function in the world without them, that makes the sales tax on them unjust.

This session Maine legislators will be considering LD 286, an act to make menstruation hygiene products tax exempt in the State of Maine. Introduced by Representative Denise Tepler (D-Topsham), this bill would do away with a long unfair tax that burdens half the population simply for having working uteruses.

Another bill, LD 628 introduced by Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell), would ensure that incarcerated people would have free access to menstrual products in Maine’s jails, county correctional facilities and state correctional and detention facilities.

The laws surrounding menstrual products have been at the forefront in many states recently. In 2016, New York City passed a menstrual equity law, the first of its kind, ensuring that menstruating people in prison are granted humane treatment. In Arizona, the case Parsons v. Ryan spurred the passage of a bill that grants prisoners unlimited access to menstrual hygiene products. Around the country the questions of menstrual equity are being examined.

A tax or fee that only impacts half the population – specifically for something they have absolutely no control over – is wrong. There is no comparable item for the other half of the population. There’s no taxed product that men use that they can’t go into the world without to compare against. We aren’t talking about something that is a luxury, or something optional. We’re talking about a necessity. Something women, trans men and nonbinary menstruating people absolutely cannot live in our world without.

Considering that advertisements for these products use blue liquid, comforting those who don’t menstruate into a lull of believing that menstrual blood looks like window cleaner, I definitely don’t think folks are ready for a world where menstrual products are not used. And even if it was socially acceptable, I don’t believe I would be comfortable with that mess either. So we are stuck purchasing these products for the majority of our lives, and paying a huge collective tax bill on them, while half the population skips that tax entirely.

The amount of money paid in this tax by menstruating people could seem inconsequential when we consider the overall sales taxes paid in Maine, but for a low-income family it can add up. As one of four sisters, I know just how many pads and tampons one household can go through in a month, and for people counting their pennies, making these products tax exempt can make a big difference.

Similarly, most incarcerated people have very limited funds with which to purchase commissary items, including food, snacks, hygiene items, stationary and postage, electronics and games – and for women and trans men, menstruation products.

Ultimately, regardless of financial status, it mostly just isn’t fair. Though we like to call taxes on menstruation products “tampon taxes,” they should just be called “menstruation fees.” We are being taxed for having a body that is doing exactly what it was built to do in a world that requires us to go out, have jobs, grocery shop, and just generally live while we menstruate. While I will always be grateful for the app reminding me to be prepared, I do look forward to a day when I can easily acquire menstrual products, without embarrassment and without any sort of added fee, while out in the world living my life.

(Photo: BXGD | Creative Commons via flickr)

About Katrina Ray-Saulis

Avatar photoKatrina Ray-Saulis is a Maine writer and avid knitter. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from the New Hampshire Institute of Art. She and her wife live in a 200-year old house that was once owned by the local undertaker.

Sign up for Beacon newsletters

Our newsletter, sent each evening, curates the day's most important stories from newsrooms around Maine.