From the products to the rhetoric to the social perception of periods, managing this “time of the month” has a long history.
People go to the drug store for the same things: cheap cigarettes, shampoo and that random package that audaciously arrived at the post office instead of your porch. Yet, as a person with a uterus, my basket seems heavier at the till compared to my cis-male counterparts; not because I am buying my body weight in low-price holiday candy, but because the strain of the patriarchy weighs me down, forcing me to purchase necessary goods. My basket is chock-full of tampons, Motrin, Tylenol, laundry detergent, heating pads, maxi pads and other necessities required to adhere to societal norms when I experience the monthly onslaught of uterine self-destruction.
Often, for those who get periods, talking about a menstrual cycle is shameful; we aren’t supposed to talk about these things. An innate misogynist mindset in society has managed to convince people with uteruses that they need to dedicate time and energy to internalizing and apologizing for every aspect of their bodily functions. From the products to the rhetoric to the social perception of periods, managing this “time of the month” has a long history that continues to evolve, but is not yet resolved.
The global feminine product industry is now worth over $20 billion, yet these products are not available as a basic essential. Often marketed like a pressed juice, period products are, to all those who get periods, a necessity. Before Kotex was invented, people still, in fact, had periods.
In ancient times, the tampon as we know it now was composed of papyrus, lint wrapped around wood, paper, or pads made of moss and buffalo skin. People used these methods, along with homemade pads, washable cloths, or absorbent cloths, until the late 1800s when Lister Towels found an untapped market and released the first disposable sanitary napkin. The breakthrough in disposable products inspired an onslaught of alternatives to make the menstrual cycle a little easier for day-to-day functioning. The early 1900s saw another breakthrough, during the First World War. Nurses serving overseas discovered the absorbency of surgical gauze, which caught Kotex’s eye and the company promptly released the highly absorbent and disposable sanitary napkin.
In 1929, the notorious tampon was created. This product’s patent purchase marks the creation of the other global superpower in period products, Tampax. Tampons provided people with greater freedom during their cycle, reducing the limitations of what a person could do while on their period. Throughout the 1900s, tampons and pads were adapted for easier application techniques and adhesion, leading to the products we use today, stocked in every drug store, grocery store and corner store. From tampons to pads to menstrual cups, most of today’s products are some combination of FDA-approved, scented, biodegradable, organic and, of course, packaged in cute little wrappers.
The products created for accommodating a period may be considered “liberating.” However, there’s a catch: a person buying menstruation products has to pay upwards of $7 for something that lasts, if they’re lucky, two months of the 500 or so months of periods during their lifetime. Nevermind all the other stuff in the basket. Periods have been shunned, then capitalized, and then embraced; yet, it is still something people have to pay for. We may as well just go back to using papyrus.
Found in many societies and rooted in a patriarchal norm is the “pink tax” or “tampon tax,” otherwise known as the price-gouging of gender-based products. Women’s products often cost more than those of their cis-male counterparts, even though they are the same thing with slight adjustments, such as a different scent or color. Menstrual products are not something that those with a uterus can opt-out of. The lovely gift from mother nature will come every month whether you get a paycheck or not. The fact that a person has to pay to stay sanitary and safe during this time is unfathomable.
Periods are acknowledged in society, but only as something taboo; they are often not considered an inborn bodily function that requires safe care and attention. Paying for a period product reinforces an ingrained patriarchal norm that people are expected to either carry on with daily life despite their discomfort, or miss out on work, school and other opportunities. Those who can’t afford the proper sanitary products to function during this time, can miss days of pay every month.
Charging for period products seems as indecent as charging humans for how many breaths they take. Hypothetically, if a cis-gendered man had the same problem, would there still be this large of a price difference? Would paying for sanitary products be a norm? As Gloria Steinem states, “if men got periods, they would brag about how much and how long.” Period products would likely be federally funded and free, like health care and education. Periods might even be celebrated. Instead, I have a deadly fear of a tampon slipping out of my backpack and causing a reaction of shock and horror from a passerby.
Cis-men have held power for centuries, but as we journey further into the 21st century, people with periods are taking this power back, demanding equality for products and possible government-funded methods of acquiring sanitary products.
There is conflict in what we deserve and what we are given. I encourage you, dearest people with periods, to stand together. We face this inherent body function that, at times, is terrifying, painful and gory. Still, we each have the opportunity to witness it become liberating and powerful. It’s a process that ties us all together to take up our space in this world, in our jobs and in the drug store aisle.