Dysmenorrhoea. Period pain. It’s not pleasant, but it’s common. The Virtual Medical Centre, Australia’s leading medical information website, reported in 2005 that between 40-70% of women of reproductive age suffer from the condition, and of these women, 10% report their symptoms, (which can be as mildly irritating as a dull ache, or as immobilizing as severe cramping), as being especially intense. However, other studies from around the same era, such as that by Feminax, found that over 80% of a group of 600 females suffered from period pains, and that what’s more, 10% of the group found the pains so debilitating that, on a monthly basis, they were forced to take time off work. Despite the commonly portrayed ideas of what women like to get up to on their periods, for a lot of women the main desires really aren’t roller-skating, jogging, horse-riding, or anything that doesn’t involve being laid in bed and assuming the foetal position; menstruation is definitely no walk, (or skate), in the park.
And that’s just the bodily side of things. Socially, it can be even more difficult to be a woman on your period. Maybe, it’s down to the fact that we exist in a society where women are so extensively sexualised that the thought of a vagina being used for anything more than accommodating penises that people are so repulsed by menstruation,(Because of course, all of us women essentially plead to mother nature for our body to strip itself apart). Or perhaps it has something to due with many people’s first encounter with periods – in an awkward primary school sex education classroom, surrounded by peers who have already branched off into gender-dependant groups, and as such find anything to do with the opposite sex gross. One thing, however, is definitely for certain. Periods are taboo.
There are many examples of this. As Colin Schultz suggested early this year, one of the most obvious indications that there is a taboo surrounding periods is the use of blue, and not red, liquids within many advertisements demonstrating the capability of feminine hygiene products. This tradition was only broken in 2011, and is essentially just a somewhat evolved version of the ‘urgh! Blood!’ reaction that appears around the same time as the aforementioned sex ed. Class, and just serves to reinforce the idea that a period is disgusting, dirty, and something to be hidden away. In an article by Hannah Betts last year, Betts gave the example of Uta Pippig, and the controversey the runner caused when she ran, (and won!), the Boston marathon in 1996 – with visible menstrual blood. Betts describes how ‘Commentators were rendered speechless, referring to “physical problems”, “stomach pain” and “diarrhoea”. In 2000, Karen Houppert also found herself exploring the taboo within her work, coming to the conclusion that periods are not just a forbidden subject, but also a confusing one; as females, we’re taught from a young age that they are natural, but from then on, the majority of the advice we’re given only covers how to hide them. And what’s more, Houppert notes that even menopause, which signifies the end of this apparent stain, (forgive the pun), on our lives, is a subject strictly forbidden to talk about. However, perhaps one of the most notable ways in which the nature of menstruation taboo is exhibited is by the gloriously pink-haired youtuber Albinwonderland, who, in reaction to the launching of a ‘resealable tampon’, commented on the fact that the concept of these tampons is yet another demonstration of society’s refusal to accept the reality of periods. It’s a way of hiding the bloody actuality that accompanies the female reproductive system by making use of ‘easy and discreet disposal’; instead of putting a used tampon, (rubbish), in the bin, (with other rubbish), the apparent expectation is to place the tampon back in it’s packet, and carry it around with you until you are able to find a more suitable place to dispose of the evidence, thus continuing the taboo.
Subsequently, with all of society’s hullabaloo and anxiety surrounding the topic, you’d think that it would be made easy for us to ensure that our natural, seven million year old, not hurting anyone, process would be easier to hide, considering the probable reaction if we were to venture out, ‘riding the crimson tide’, without some form of sanitary product. You’d assume, generally, that considering the mounting evidence that society really doesn’t want to hear about your bodily fluids, they’d consider the sanitation of your bodily fluids, and as such the prevention of trips to the hospital to deal with consequent fairly unpleasant health problems, or even just the discretion of your bodily fluids, ‘essential’, would you not?
Well, apparently, when it comes to Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, this is not the case! No no; Mr Osborne believes female sanitary products are ‘unessential’, and that as such, they are in need of a 5% tax rate.
This is a somewhat bemusing decision at face value, given the implication that Mr Osborne is quite literally taxing individuals based on their gender, and doing so whilst they’re in potentially both a physically, and socially uncomfortable situation. Fundamentally, women are expected to not only hobble our way to whatever shop is closest, clutching our cramping stomachs, and casting awkward glances behind us to make sure nobody has noticed that we are part of the female gender, (and as such our body reflects this), but we are then expected to pay excessive amounts of money in order to maintain our hygiene during this ridiculously challenging monthly occasion. However, what’s even more bemusing about this decision is that, if we were so inclined, we could theoretically hobble our way to whatever shop is closest, clutching our cramping stomachs, and casting awkward glances behind us us to make sure nobody has noticed that we are part of the female gender, (and as such our body reflects this), and then purchase – tax-free – men’s razors, cake decorations, alcoholic dessert jellies, and… wait for it… crocodile steaks.
Evidently, Mr Osborne is fairly confused as to exactly what essential is defined at. I for one, having only ever come in contact with one item from that list, (cake decorations), can confirm that I’m really quite okay; even without the benefit of alcoholic jelly, exotic meat, or a man’s razor.
On the other hand, I’m certain that I would not be okay without the benefit of feminine hygiene products. I’m quite certain that if I didn’t make use of them, not only would I be severely criticised within our society, (which as I’ve already suggested, is fairly against the idea of periods, and as such probably wouldn’t want me bleeding here, there, and everywhere), or be forced into perpetually buying new sets of underwear to replace those that wouldn’t look out of place a slasher film prop, but that also, (as the name of the products suggests), I would face a lack of hygiene. What’s more, I’m not alone in this thought, with the ‘Stop taxing periods. Period.’ petition having been set up by the lovely Laura Coryton last month. The 34,000 signature strong movement, aims to convince Mr Osborne to ‘recognise the essentiality’ of the products which he deems un-needed, (Though no doubt this wouldn’t be the case were he to suddenly wake up and find that not only did he have a vagina, but that having gone to sleep on white sheets, he’d woken up on the Japanese flag), and, quite rightly, advises him that ‘failure to acknowledge this, especially in comparison with other menial products, is an insult to men and women alike, and should be reversed. ‘
So come on Mr Osborne. Stop taxing periods.
- albinwonderland. (2012). Resealable Tampons. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1NZOwvavk8. Last accessed 7th June 2014.
- BBC News. (2005). Period pain career damage fears. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4131314.stm. Last accessed 7th June 2014.
- Betts, H. (2013). The P Word: A last taboo. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10401952/Periods-A-last-taboo.-Why-the-hell-cant-we-talk-about-them.html. Last accessed 7th June 2014.
- Houppert, K (2000). The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation. New York: Farrar,Straus and Giroux.
- myVMC. (2005). Dysmenorrhoea (Period Pain, Menstrual Cramps). Available: http://www.myvmc.com/diseases/dysmenorrhoea-period-pain-menstrual-cramps/. Last accessed 7th June 2014.
- Schultz, C. (2014). How Taboos Around Menstruation Are Hurting Women’s Health. Available: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/how-taboos-around-menstruation-are-hurting-womens-health-180949992/?no-ist. Last accessed 7th June 2014.
Image: ‘4Y1A0781’ posted to Flickr by Ninara at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ninara