It’s the terminus point of modern feminism: make the deeply personal very publicly political, and get someone else to pay for it! If one man is keeping you in the style to which you’re accustomed, you’re a kept woman – perhaps even [shudder] a stay-at-home mom. But if your sugar is funneled from thousands of hapless tax payers through a legion of faceless bureaucrats, you’re a tower of feminist self-determination. Fight the power, sisters! Demand government tampons!
Last week, Jessica Valenti (Feministing founder, NARAL director and Planned Parenthood heroine) asked via Twitter, “Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?” The question sparked an obnoxious social media backlash, which, in turn, sparked an obnoxious retort by Valenti in her column for The Guardian: “The case for free tampons.” The liberal media, from Cosmo to TIME, followed suit with the “compelling argument” and “great idea.”
“The high cost of a product that half the population needs multiple times a day, every month for approximately 30 years,” Valenti began in her August 11 piece, “is simply, well, bullshit.”
But cost was hardly the crux of Valenti’s argument. “This is less an issue of costliness than it is of principle,” she later admitted, because “menstrual care is health care.” She explained how, like birth control, “the idea of women even getting small tax breaks for menstrual products provokes incredulousness” not only because “people lack an incredible amount of empathy” but also “because it has something to do with vaginas.” (Ooh, the “V-word.” Bet Valenti felt a transgressive thrill just writing it!)
To back up her claims, Valenti cited how The United Nations and Human Rights Watch connected feminine hygiene with “human rights.” For women around the world, “getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections” because governments “don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue,” she complained.
After much backlash (some of which crossed the line), Valenti’s media allies carried on the “free tampon” torch. “Now I cannot for the life of me understand how people could get so worked up about making tampons more affordable,” Jezebel’s Isha Aran lamented. She continued: “For a normal human being that has even the most basic grasp of female anatomy and understands that it's biology that women menstruate every month or so, it's not a crazy concept to ponder.”
Similarly, Cosmo’s Jill Filipovic added to the “compelling argument,” advising that “Employers should offer free tampons in the bathroom” to foster a “female-friendly workplace.” Slate’s Amanda Marcotte suggested the same.
Marcotte even attempted to clarify Valenti’s article: “With a provocative suggestion that tampons should be free,” she said, “Valenti is asking audiences to really think about how the right to move about in public without bleeding all over yourself, a no-brainer for men, is a privilege for women that depends all too much on their ability to afford sanitary products.”
Other media chimed in on the debate, with TIME Magazine’s Megan Gibson announcing the “great idea” and Intentional Business Times’ Mangala Dilip professing how “subsidising tampons is not a crazy concept.” Buzzfeed also noted the Twitter backlash against Valenti.
In tune with them, The Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow challenged Valenti: “You know what else is not tax deductible? Aspirin; something nearly everyone uses many times a year and is recommended by many doctors to prevent heart attacks.”
“But free just because women need them?” Schow continued, “That, along with cries for free birth control or free whatever just because we’re women stops looking like equality and more like a new class of privilege.”
Forbes’ Tim Worstall also argued against what he called a “dumb public policy suggestion.” “Even if you think everyone should have access to something it’s still a really dumb idea to just make it free,” he determined.
For a writer who is all about “choice,” Valenti ironically insists upon one option. But perhaps her other brainstorm creations offer more charm – from declaring “fantastic, fun, non-procreative sex” makes women “human” to deeming a religious sex-ed class a human rights violation.