Elements of a tampon with applicator

Progressive politicians in The United Kingdom have been pushing to lift the “Tampon Tax." This tax is applied to tampons because they are legally considered luxury goods. MPs, such as Paula Sherrif of the Labour Party, have been campaigning to reclassify tampons as essentials, such as toilet paper and medical supplies. The reclassification would have a significant financial impact (British individuals can spend as much as s £18,450 on their periods over the course of their lifetime), as well as perform a symbolic role in stating the imperativeness of the health of people with vaginas. It is an important step towards acknowledging the specific health needs of individuals who menstruate, as well as fighting the stigma associated with their bodies.

In reaction to this movement, a self-proclaimed feminist, Ryan Williams, has provoked a heated debate after declaring that tampons shouldn't be free and women should instead "hold their bladders." The nineteen-year-old student from Essex went on a Twitter rant against the removal of the tampon tax, saying:

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Tampons should not be free, why does everyone keep saying they should be?? if u can't control ur bladder then that's not taxpayers problem!
— Ryan ø (@ryanwilliams97) October 16, 2016
Someone just told me they spent £2,000 on tampons in 20 years... just hold ur bladder and donate it to charity OMG what a waste of money
— Ryan ø (@ryanwilliams97) October 17, 2016
The hate I'm receiving is just pathetic. Please keep your opinions and negativity to yourself! Control your termper please! #PMT
— Ryan ø (@ryanwilliams97) October 18, 2016

source: Williams' Twitter

Ryan’s knowledge of reproductive anatomy is clearly inaccurate (as we probably do not have to explain, people do not menstruate from their bladders; urine comes out of the urethra, while menstrual blood comes out of the vagina; and menstruation is an autonomic bodily function, i.e. it cannot be controlled out of an individual’s own volition.) His comments are clearly rooted in sexism and misogyny — he says that people who menstruate are “lazy," suggests that the menstruation is somehow frivolous, and believes that products necessary for health and sanitation are a "waste." Williams’s beliefs are clearly rooted in hatred and self-pity, but they also reflect a deep lack of sexual education.

As Teen Vogue points out, “Sex education [in the US] is wildly limited Only 22 states mandate sex education, and only 13 require the information to be medically accurate...Less than half of this country is being provided with adequate sex ed, and more than half of them are exposed to a mix of facts and biological fan fiction.” Williams’s education in the UK could not have been much better, based on an interview he gave to The Tab.

Williams told their reporter that he thinks “the tampon tax is ridiculous. Tampons are not a necessity. It’s like bottled water – people are trying to keep bottled water in business. But it’s the same thing as with tampons, it’s an unnecessary product. Just hold your bladder.” The interviewer asked him, “So, you understand that women don’t bleed from their bladder right?” Then, Williams, after a “[Long silence],” said, “Sorry what?” The reporter said, “You understand that women don’t bleed from their bladder?” and Williams asked, “What do you mean?” The reporter explained to him “So, a tampon isn’t inserted into a woman’s bladder. Tampons are for periods, not urine. Only urine comes from the bladder.” and Williams’s only response was “What?”

Williams seems to be genuinely uninformed about sexual health and, although that does not excuse his misogyny, reflects a very real lack of access to sex education. In fact, it is the very same stigma that fuels Williams’s beliefs which leads to this lack of education — because we do not value the dialogue that should surround menstruation. We do not wish to see it talked about openly; we wish that women could somehow “hold it in.”

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Reclassifying tampons as non-luxury goods would be an open acknowledgment that 1. Until now the way in which we have thought about menstruation and reproductive biology has been framed by misogyny, and 2. That there are components of reproductive anatomy that are non-sexual and autonomous. It would acknowledge that menstruation is an everyday reality — one that cannot be stopped or controlled through sheer willpower. It would mean that people who have vaginas are human; and that their innate, biological humanity will come through, no matter the amount of stigma that it is subject to.

There is nothing shameful in menstruation. It is natural and it is normal. Menstruation, like many bodily functions, requires proper sanitary care to maintain health and hygiene. To provide anything less is a denial of human rights. What Williams’s statements show us is how stigma, ignorance, and hate can all combine to form harmful beliefs. He is some idiot kid without a proper scientific education; it’s easy to almost feel sorry for him. What we must do, however, is acknowledge that his individual ignorance is rooted in sexism and misogyny. That his words, while almost comically misinformed, reflect very real beliefs and stigmas that permeate society and our everyday lives. We see them less starkly rendered, though just as harmful, when we are forced to whisper “do you have a tampon?” to a coworker, or when our insurance does not cover birth control and we become sick with menstrual symptoms, or when many people around the world are denied access to health and education because they do not have access to sanitary menstrual devices. The only shame that should be associated with menstruation is the degree to which we, as a society, stigmatize and ignore it. That, instead of addressing it as a specific human need, we tell people that they must “hold it in.” 

image source: Wikipedia

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