The Gendered Politics of Periods

From tackling product transparency to the Tampon Tax, feminine hygiene companies are revolutionizing their industry by creating menstrual products with a social cause.

by Gabby Granada

Illustration by Grace Molteni

“YOUR VAGINA MATTERS” reads in large, bolded font across Sustain Natural’s web page as part of their campaign to launch the female hygiene company’s all natural period line. The unabashed message is more of a declaration than a public service announcement, yet with 37 U.S. states still actively taxing feminine products under the labeled guise of “luxury” items, the message feels more like an emphatic reminder to a society still not sure what to make of the female body, especially periods.

 

“Since when is dealing with our period—one of the most natural bodily functions—considered a ‘luxury’?” said Meika Hollender, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sustain. “Aside from food, which isn’t taxed, I can’t think of a more essential item for women. Rogaine and men’s razors aren’t even taxed. Yet again, an example of gender inequality playing out in politics.”

 

So what exactly is the tampon tax? It’s worth noting that female menstrual products are taxed differently across the globe, and no country has a tampon-specific tax. In the U.S., “the tampon tax” is essentially a sales tax, deeming necessary menstrual care products as “non-essential” or “luxury” items. In principal, abolishing the tampon tax is a no-brainer for anyone who believes women shouldn’t have to pay an added fee for necessary menstrual care.

 

The problem is not necessarily a patriarchal privileging of [trivial items like] candy over feminine hygiene, but a refusal to see tampons, toilet paper, and other personal hygiene products as being comparable to food in terms of necessity,” The Daily Beast senior reporter Samantha Allen wrote. “That’s less of a feminist issue, specifically, and more of a public health issue with a feminist bent.”

 

At its core, the tampon tax is a crucial women’s public health issue, and it’s imperative to approach it from an intersectional standpoint on accessibility as well. Despite valid frustration with the gender discriminatory tax, many women still have the financial means to pay for necessary feminine hygiene products. Meanwhile, impoverished girls and women struggle to gain access to menstrual products that are essential for functioning in daily life. “[Tampons are] the most requested and least donated item in homeless shelters,” says Hollender. “As a business leader in this industry, it’s my responsibility to lead the charge for change and to be part of this movement demanding full transparency, so that women everywhere can not only make informed decisions about what they’re putting inside themselves, but also that low-income women and families can have access to these essential products in the first place.”

 

The period activist movement has forcibly brought conversations on feminine care accessibility, menstrual equity, and product transparency to the forefront of the nation. Its efforts catalyzed the reinvention of female hygiene companies entirely with the rise of period products with a social cause. A small yet fierce cohort of female hygiene companies have made it their personal mantra to bundle activism with all-natural, eco-friendly period product lines. These companies’ burgeoning political roles in addressing women’s health issues have the capacity to affect tremendous change. In fact, this past May The Menstrual Product Right to Know Act was introduced to Congress, requiring all menstrual products (pads, tampons, cups, etc.) to include ingredients on the label.

 

Sustain Natural

Sustain is an eco-friendly company focused on organic women’s reproductive health products such as condoms and an all-new tampon and pad line. For the first 30 days of their new menstrual care launch this past May, Sustain matched every dollar it collected in sales tax with a donation to the Girls Helping Girls. Period. Organization, which helps low-income girls and women in the U.S. gain access to essential menstrual hygiene products.

 

Cora

Cora is another example of an organic tampon company that’s dedicated to finding sustainable solutions for the global period crisis. For every month’s supply of Cora’s sustainable and biodegradable menstrual products purchased, the company donates a month’s supply of sustainable pads to girls in developing countries. Their ultimate goal being to empower women and girls in need.

 

LOLA

Lola, similar to Cora and Sustain, offers an organic, customizable period care kit with a passion for transparency within menstrual products. Lola’s mission to make feminine hygiene more accessible to all has been the driving force behind their company’s launch. Since their start, Lola has donated 100,000+ feminine care products to low-income women and girls across the U.S.

 

It’s also worth noting that household feminine care brands like P&G’s Tampax and Always have begun to bundle activism with increased product transparency and environmental awareness as well. Listed on Tampax’s website is a chart of every ingredient and chemical used in their products from the tampon applicator to the very thread that binds each tampon together. Always also started their #LikeAGirl campaign that empowers girls to reclaim the insult of doing anything “like a girl” and take pride in every unique aspect of being a woman—periods and all.

 

The movement to revolutionize the way we create, tax, and talk about period products has gained momentum with feminine care companies like Cora, LOLA, and Sustain trailblazing at the forefront. With the added support of large household feminine care brands, this movement isn’t showing signs of subsiding anytime soon. The choice to support feminine care brands with laudable causes, like actively fighting the tampon tax and demanding more transparency for the menstrual hygiene products we put in our bodies, is ultimately up to every individual woman—and her wallet. When it comes to the politics and price-tags of periods, exercising your purchasing power for brands that directly affect change is an indelible way to make your voice heard.

Gabby Granada is a Chicago-native writer, activist, and film lover. She is currently pursing an English degree at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. More often than not, Gabby can be found eating Thai food and screaming about women’s issues with her friends. She aspires to write sarcastically for a living, work in film, and save the world from weak, power-hungry men (AKA become Carrie Fisher).

Grace Molteni is a Midwest born and raised designer, illustrator, and self-proclaimed bibliophile, currently calling Chicago home. She believes strongly in a “beer first, always, and only” rule, and is forever seeking the perfect dumpling. For more musings, work, or just to say hey check her out on Instagram.