When I first got my period I was absolutely horrified. Not because I had not been adequately educated in PDHPE classes, but because I didn’t want anyone to know. I’m a Tamil Sri Lankan Australian, and although that has been an enriching part of my identity (no offence, ethnic food is better), there was one subjectively, truly horrible part of it – the period party. I’d been a “flower girl” (yes, it is literally a precursor to your wedding) at other people’s period parties leading up to my own, each time dreading my similar fate. When the day came, I decided to bite my tongue and bear it and have been guilt tripping my parents ever since. For a long time I cursed this tradition as being sexist and archaic, unique to my “backward” culture. I kept the evidence (extravagant photo albums) locked away and made my family vow never to mention it again.
Of course, with the benefit of a proud feminist’s hindsight, I realise that this tradition is not as perverse as I had viscerally felt. The real perversity is in the shame that surrounds periods. I’m not saying we should celebrate periods – I feel pretty ambivalently towards them, but we should accept them as a biological human reality for many. When I look back to past periods – concealing tampons in secret pockets lest they be seen, slipping sanitary pads up my sleeve on the walk from my bag to the bathroom, discreet conversations with friends in university corridors as we exchanged sanitary products as if partaking in a high-risk drug deal.
That shame and secrecy, like most things, is structural. One need only look at advertisements for sanitary items. Either there is some super hot, perfect, entirely un-period-experiencing-like woman in a tight white skirt floating around an office, with complementary graphics of strange abstract arrows flying around a tampon and background voiceovers of period euphemisms, or that bizarre Libra advertisement when a guy covers his arms in pads and pretends he is a superhero. The same pattern of period discomfort was evidenced by instagram this year, when a photograph of a woman with a small period stain on her track pants was removed for inappropriateness.
So what’s the significance of this to the title of this article? The Tax Review is coming up and sanitary products are still taxed by the GST on the basis they are not “necessary” enough – apparently unlike nicotine, sunscreen and condoms. It is a great example of how deeply entrenched our fear of periods is. We can talk about sex, we can talk about skin cancer and we can talk about smoking, but the minute the government has to recognise sanitary products as a basic necessity for a lot of people, they freak out.
I think the tax should be removed and for reasons that stretch far beyond and are far more important than my privileged diaspora shame story. I can go and buy my tampons without thinking twice. However, there are a lot of people who cannot and for whom 10% is a truly unfair tax. Case in point – homeless women, who have limited or no access to sanitary products, often forcing them to go without. There is a great initiative being run by www.thehomelessperiod.com that seeks to address this, but we can generally do so by removing the 10% tax.
At the moment, the government gets $25 million each year from the tax on sanitary products. The reason this has not been addressed already and why sanitary products were originally not exempt is either because politicians are too awkward to confront the reality of periods or they just want us to literally pay for them. Either way, it’s sexist. If you think Joe Hockey should deal with the fact that a lot of people in his life menstruate and it is not a choice they should be financially punished for – please sign my petition and submit straight to the tax review (you get redirected to it when you sign the petition). Here’s the link: https://www.communityrun.org/petitions/stop-taxing-my-period