Imagine finding out that, for the entirety of your adult life—and even before— you’ve been paying an invisible tax. This particular tax is unique: You don’t have to file a tax return or earn money to be required to pay it. All it takes is membership in a group you had no say in joining. While this mystery tax sounds invasive, even preposterous, it is in fact a painful reality for about half of the population.
The so-called pink tax refers to the extra charge levied against a myriad of products or services marketed for women—overall, about $1,351 more per year than men, accrued through the 42 percent of transactions that are unequal along gender lines (Listen Money Matters, “The Pink Tax– The Cost of Being a Female Consumer”). A study by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs found that products marketed to women or girls were seven percent more expensive than comparable products for men and boys (NYC Consumer Affairs, “From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer,” 12.2015). Fortunately, most products are almost indistinguishable regardless of the gender to which they are marketed. As a result, simply purchasing “men’s” products can help female consumers bypass the pitfalls of the pink tax. There is one cost, however, that this strategy cannot resolve: the price of menstrual products.
For people who experience periods, these necessities can present a significant and inevitable financial burden. Thirty-six states charge between four and 10 percent sales tax on these essential products, because they are considered “luxury items” (Boxed Wholesale, “What is Tampon Tax?”). Yet as anyone with a period knows, pads and tampons are hardly dispensable, and a lack of access can seriously disrupt daily life. Even purely on principle, the tax appears sexist and unjust, particularly when the law exempts vasectomies from sales tax (The Guardian, “The case for free tampons,” 08.11.2014). Moreover, the U.S. lags behind other developed countries on this issue. Canada nixed the tampon tax in 2015, sacrificing around $40,000 in annual tax revenue after a private bill received all-party support (SBS News, “Canada scraps ‘tampon tax,’” 07.01.2015), and countries around the world—including India, Australia and Colombia in 2018 alone— have done the same. Yet in the U.S., only nine states have outlawed the tax.
Even without the tax, the cost of menstrual products is steep, adding up over the approximately 500 periods that a menstruating person has in their lifetime (NetDoctor, “The menstrual cycle,” 10.03.2015). Luckily, students at Vassar are ahead of the curve. Since 2016, Project.Period (P.P) has made free pads and tampons available to the campus with goals of increasing accessibility, relieving financial stress for low-income students and normalizing menstrual product use (The Miscellany News, “Project Period promotes menstrual product accessibility,” 04.12.2017).
According to Co-President Nitasha Giran ’20, P.P has experienced significant change since its inception, when it was a project under VSA’s Health and Wellness Committee. Now a VSA org, P.P has expanded from stocking products only in residential houses to covering the entire campus, restocking on a weekly basis. In its newest development, P.P is working to become a chapter of PERIOD—a network of activists advocating for access to menstrual care—and is pursuing the possibility of sourcing products from the non-profit.
We at the Misc commend Project.Period’s continued efforts to ease monetary and logistical stressors for all menstruating students. In particular, P.P has been doing an excellent job keeping all of its bins stocked, even with over 40 distribution locations ranging from dorms and academic buildings to Baldwin and the AFC. Each bin features an appropriate mix of pads and tampons to cater to various preferences, and the products are high quality. For those who prefer a more sustainable solution, P.P debuted its menstrual cup initiative in 2018, during which they provided “pay what you wish” cups with a recommended price of $8 and subsidized the difference from their own budget. Students who missed the first call for cups can look forward to more opportunities to come: According to Giran, the org’s goal is to have a sale every semester, with one upcoming after spring break.
Although P.P is making impressive strides, one potential area to further improve accessibility is implementing bins in all bathrooms, including those designated as men’s. Giran recalled that P.P tried leaving a bin in men’s bathrooms in Rocky and the Library, but the latter went missing and the former was never used. Nevertheless, we feel it would be beneficial to add a small supply of products in men’s bathrooms, as trans or gender-nonconforming students who menstruate may face discomfort looking for pads and tampons in buildings without gender-neutral bathrooms.
With schools such as Cornell and Brown also distributing free menstrual products and students at UPenn pushing for similar initiatives, its an exciting time for nationwide progress on this issue, and P.P represents an avenue for continued advancement in our own backyard (The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Penn lags behind in access to menstrual products. The UA wants to fix that,” 01.21.2019). As the org continues its efforts, we hope to see it maintain top-quality service at Vassar and deepen its connections to nationwide non-profits such as PERIOD. Beyond Vassar, we encourage students to push for abolition of menstrual product taxation by contacting their representatives. Most important, we urge everyone to bring light to the pink tax by circulating information and refusing to purchase products marked up along gender lines. Perhaps, with concerted efforts, we can someday live in a world where neither biology nor gender identity dictates the numbers on our supermarket bill.
–– The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.