There is a universal joy amongst women in watching men squirm over the sheer mention of the word “period.”
I’ll never forget the moment one of my friends made a 20-year-old male airport security officer pick up fistfuls of tampons from the floor when they fell out as he checked her bag.
“Are you going to pick those up?” she asked, before he fumbled on the floor with a face the colour of a Playtex box.
That it is even taboo is a joke in itself. But the fact that a box of Tampax costs more than a sandwich doesn’t make me laugh. It makes me sick.
Let’s take a moment to deconstruct what a tampon essentially is; cotton wool, a piece of string and plastic wrapping. Probably about three pence each to manufacture. It’s not a luxury item — no one stocks up on Lil-lets while buying their giant Toblerone in duty free. It’s a necessity for women in the way warm clothing in the winter is.
A box of 20 costs between £2 and £3 in our supermarkets. If you’re buying one box a month that’s as much as £36 a year, which is two weeks’ food shopping for some.
Meanwhile, one in ten women under 21 can’t afford sanitary protection in this country, according to a survey by Plan International UK.
Schools have reported girls having to choose between buying lunch and buying protection, while some can’t afford it and miss classes to avoid embarrassment. If you aren’t even remotely outraged by this, there is something fundamentally wrong with you.
This isn’t a problem reserved for young women, either. At my local Tesco, there’s a donation box by the checkout for sanitary products for my local foodbank. This. In one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Imagine the indignity of already not being able to afford food for whatever reason, then relying on strangers to buy you sanitary towels.
If a baby was left without its nappy changed, the parents would rightly be prosecuted for child neglect. So why is it acceptable for the government to neglect citizens who can’t afford that protection for themselves?
Period poverty has been propelled into the forefront of women’s issues this year. Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff has been an important figurehead in this movement with her tireless lobbying of ministers to sort it out.
Scotland has cottoned on (pun unintentional) and is piloting free sanitary products. So I don’t see how this country can spend £381m on upgrading an old fleet of army tanks which are likely to be scrapped, as it did last month, yet won’t cough up on basic necessities for some of its most disadvantaged people.
It’s not a crass subject, it’s something that happens to half the population once a month. This is what real feminism is. No bra swinging or throwing darts at pictures of Donald Trump (although both are immensely satisfying), just treating basic rights for women with the same consideration as we treat those for men.