Periods are Political: How the Tampon Tax Contributes to Gender Inequality

By Kimberly Tuttle (CMC’19)

The average woman spends over six years of her life on her period. Though it varies for each woman, nearly 70 percent of women use tampons. This means that nearly 115 million women in the United States buy tampons regularly. Yet, tampons and other feminine hygiene products, like sanitary napkins, are taxed in 39 states. Taxation on menstrual supplies is not only extremely costly for women financially, but a catalyst for gender inequality in America as well.

The so-called “tampon tax” is a hot-button issue in several states right now. Many states that administer the tampon tax qualify groceries and medications as necessities, thus exempting them from sales tax, yet qualify menstrual supplies as luxuries, subjecting the items to sales tax sometimes as high as nine percent.

In addition to being taxed at the register for tampons, women are often taxed through payroll as well. The U.S. government authorizes tax exemptions for a long list of medical items, like condoms, sunscreen, and band-aids. However, feminine hygiene products are not included on that list. This means that women are not allowed to include tampons in special expense accounts offered by employers and health insurance plans that set aside earnings to pay medical expenses before taxes.

Many female advocacy groups and lobbyists oppose the taxation of feminine hygiene products, arguing that tampons should be deemed necessities, not luxuries. By taxing a woman for tampons, the U.S. government is essentially taxing women for having their periods.

The tampon tax is interpreted by many people through not only a financial lens, by way of understanding a sound tax policy, but through a political and gender-centric lens as well. Former President Barack Obama, when confronted with the tampon tax in 2016, stated “I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it is because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” Menstrual equity has become a prominent, bipartisan matter around the world. British advocacy groups have employed an “ax the tax” campaign to repeal the tampon tax. Similarly, in the U.S., lawmakers in over two dozen states have introduced legislation to nix the tax in an attempt to achieve gender equality nationwide.

Despite the widespread recognition for the need of tampon tax reform, supporters of the tax say exempting feminine hygiene products from the sales tax base results in less revenue for the state and higher overall tax rates in the long run. While this may be true, supporters of the tampon tax seem to only adopt the financial point-of-view when evaluating the tampon tax, and tend to ignore the political implications of administering such a tax on females.

Women are not only unfairly taxed for feminine hygiene products, but for female-branded products that men use as well. Women are taxed for items like razors, clothing, and dry cleaning disproportionately to men. This phenomenon, known as the pink tax, demonstrates the need for brands to equalize the costs of female and male products that are made identically. Women’s personal care products, on average, cost 13 percent more than men’s personal care products. The same goes for clothing, toys, vehicle repairs, and more. For example, a women’s Schick Hydro Silk five pack of razor cartridges cost $18.49, whereas the exact version of Schick’s male razor cartridge pack only cost $14.99.

The gender wage gap in America already leaves women at a financial disadvantage to men. On average, women make 80 cents to every dollar that men make. The gender wage gap, coupled with the pink tax and tampon tax, leave American women making less money than men, yet spending more money on common items, like sanitary pads, razors, and clothing.

In order to achieve gender equality in America, men and women must be taxed equally. Recognizing tampons and sanitary pads as medical expenses is not only achievable, but also necessary. Tampons and other feminine hygiene products should be taxed according to what they are to women: a necessity, not a luxury. In California alone, ending the tampon tax would save women $20 million. If supporters of the tampon tax are concerned for the loss of revenue in their states, they could turn to alternative taxation legislation proposed by lawmakers like Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. She has proposed raising the excise tax on liquor to offset the loss in revenue in California, since liquor is an item often deemed as a luxury, yet taxed like a necessity. There are many alternative ways to gain back the revenue that the tampon tax in America is currently achieving. Possibilities, like taxing liquor instead of tampons, should be explored for the sake of achieving financial and political gender equality in America.

One thought on “Periods are Political: How the Tampon Tax Contributes to Gender Inequality

  1. Reblogged this on Luxury Tax Ain't It! and commented:
    I fully agree with this post and how the author is saying that this tax is just a major gender inequality issue. I love how she added real quotes from like Obama to show the important points of views of people, but now nothing is happening to fix the issue. That’s why important petitions and blogs are started to help people raise awareness to such issues. Also, when Tuttle used the quote from Obama stating “I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it is because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” This is important cause it shows the importance of removing the tax.

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