I know that this discussion is a little after the fact, but I’ve been sitting on a number of articles for a while now and feel like I need to go back to this one for a bit of re-examination. For those who missed it in June this year the senate voted against amending the GST which proposed to remove the tax from feminine sanitary items such as tampons and pads. This obviously angered quite a lot of people, considering there is no GST applied to things such as condoms, lubricants, and incontinence pads. The backlash of this decision involved a large section of the population accusing the gentry that runs our government of purposefully taxing women for something out of their control. I myself agreed that this was deliberate discrimination against people with uteruses (uteri?).
But being me, I didn’t really participate in many conversations about it, as I don’t particularly like to comment on controversial issues (says the women with her own opinionated blog). However, I couldn’t go past one particular thread on a friend’s page on Facebook discussing the argument. The post highlighted that the choice to use disposable one-use-only items were in fact a luxury, and that there are more environmentally friendly options out there that we should be actively embracing. Most responses to this idea, including my own, were people reacting with “You’re just claiming women are acting entitled” to “So we’re just ruining the environment now”.
So I decided to look at the argument with those two points in mind. One being that women are acting entitled about being taxed on items that the government have deemed luxury. The second that women are just not being conscientious enough about protecting the environment better. As a parent, and a mother specifically, I’m sure you’re all familiar with that never-ending guilt about everything we do, and every decision we make. Piling on “Don’t forget about the environment” is just another layer of guilt we deal with on a daily basis. The many kilometres we drive chewing up petrol to take our precious cargo to this event, or that play date, or that sporting thing, or this dance recital, because screw having to use public transport to do that shit. The many, many disposable nappies we used going off to landfill to pollute the earth for thousands of years because we’re just far too lazy and inconsiderate to bother with cloth nappies. The pre-packed foods and snacks covered with three different types of plastic that will eventually end up in the ocean choking all the turtles to death, because we’re far too busy and important to bother cooking all of our food from scratch. We’ve all been there right.
As for the acting entitled part of the argument, I know that women used to make their own “rags”. With the invention of the tampon and sanitary pad, suddenly our lives became so much easier. It was wonderful. And now we’re acting entitled? When did this opinion creep in? Is this how the debate was handled on the parliament floor? With mostly men debating the issue, did they just decide that we’re being too entitled and not environmentally conscious enough? The more I thought about it, the angrier I got, and ended up formulating the following response, which should be read in the context as being directed to our lovely parliamentarians (note: it has been edited slightly to remove personal references, and to make more contextual sense).
First, where I am supposed to get these reusable sanitary pads from? Because for someone who has been menstruating for more than 20 years (holy crap, I never thought about it in those terms before), I really don’t ever recall seeing these products readily for sale. Is there an aisle in Big W or Kmart? Does Coles stock them next to the Libra products? If you know where I can get them, please direct me to them, I’ll be all for it. However if they’re NOT readily available are you perhaps suggesting I make them myself? Ok, sure, I get that women “back in the old days” used to do that all the time. How many should I make? What fabric should I use, because I’m assuming absorbency will be a factor? Let’s say I need to change 5 times a day on average for 5 days. That’s 25 right? As a mother, and almost full time worker I have to do all the things important in raising a human, cooking, cleaning, going to work, then attempting to be at least a little social, and at the end of the day still pay my husband some attention. When should I be making these items? With what time exactly? Oh, yes I can hear you say that plenty of other women find the time to make clothes from scratch. You should see the women in my playgroup, they’re amazing! But forgive me for not meeting the standard of “Stuff I should be able to do” with the time available to me.
Moving away from actually making these items, how do you suggest I clean them? Should I just throw them in the wash with the regular clothes? Would you find it appealing that my used cloths are swirling around with your crisp white business shirts? Or even just your regular clothes. Clothes you’d probably prefer to not have blood stains on. If not, should I just do a separate wash for them? Forgive me, but an entire wash cycle for 25 pieces of cloth seems a bit much. You know wasting all that water, putting more strain on the environment. The environment I’ve been destroying each month with my disposable waste right? To save on water maybe I should wash them by hand in the laundry sink instead? Scrub them to get all that blood off. By the way, do you have any idea how hard blood is to get out of fabric? Have you ever had to try and do that? Are you in Fight Club? I know you’re not supposed to talk about it, but if you are I assume you would know. But if you haven’t found your local fight club yet, I’m going to assume you have no idea. Also, do you have any idea how different period blood is to say, blood that comes from a cut on the arm. Have you heard of endometrial lining? Do you know how dark and sticky that is? Have you heard of endometriosis, the fertility disease? It’s what I have. It’s shit. Did you know that period blood for someone with endometriosis is very much like a new born baby’s meconium? It’s black and sticky and painful to pass (that’s right, the cervix is SUCH a lovely thing). I guess I can just scrub that all off by hand right? Did I mention before how I was time poor?
But ok, there are other products out there like the menstrual cup. So I’m just supposed to walk out of the cubical at work and clean it out in the sink, in front of other colleagues who may happen to come in at the time. Oh, I should be more embracing of my period and we just need to be accepting of it and not treat it as some dirty taboo subject. Oh, ok I’ll just go back and erase 20 years of social conditioning then. Or what about when I’m out at the shops with my son. Stormaggedon opened the cubical door on me the other week when I was trying to go to the toilet. I cried out to him to wait and shut the door. In turn, he chucked a tantrum right there on the public bathroom floor. And now I’m supposed to deal with that with a cup full of blood in my hands. Fine, maybe not the cup then. Hey, what about those amazing period pants. How great are they? Oh wait, they cost $30 a pair. Sure, perhaps I could afford to get a few. But I’m slightly more well off than the average person, so it’s not really realistic option for quite a large number of women I know.
Now let’s say that I do decide to choose one of the above options. Am I still going to be charged GST for them, or will you finally let me off the hook? Because in the end I shouldn’t have to jump through all those hoops to avoid a tax placed on me just because I have a vagina.
And lastly, landfill. Do you have any idea how much anxiety I suffer over the environment? Constantly. I have started having panic attacks, something I have never suffered from before, because I’m horrified about landfill, the destruction of our environment, and global warming. Telling women we’re just contributing to this landfill because we haven’t made more of an effort is just plain horrible.
So I have a suggestion. All the men who have female partners, raise your hand. Now keep your hand up if you’re willing to do the following: Help your partner make and sew her own menstrual cloths. Be ok with said menstrual cloths being placed in the wash with the regular clothes, or be happy to help your partner scrub them by hand every month. Or help your partner to clean and sanitise her menstrual cups. And most especially help change attitudes at work and social situations if women have little accidents where things get stained because said precautions weren’t as effective as they hoped they would be. Stop treating periods as taboo, something that is considered dirty, or needs to be hidden. Stop shaming women for their natural bodily functions. Still got your hands raised? Good, now we can talk about whether the tax can stay.