Free Birth Control and Now… Free Tampons?

Their argument for free tampons is that toilet paper is “free” in public bathrooms, as is soap, water, and paper towels. So, why aren’t tampons? Feminist Jessica Valenti asked her Twitter followers if anyone knew of a country where tampons are “free or somehow subsidized.” She states her emotional case for “free” feminine hygiene products in an op-ed in The Guardian:

The cost of a product that half the world’s population needs multiple times a day, every month for approximately 30 years, is simply too much.

When I got my first period, I was in the most embarrassing place my then-11-year-old self could have imagined: my grandparents’ house. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just put on extra pairs of underwear and threw them away one-by-one, scrunched at the bottom of the bathroom trash bin, as I bled through them…

But what if I’d been in school that day, like so many other girls are – without an extra pair of underwear or a quarter in my pocket to plug into the vending machine? Or what if my family’s weekly budget hadn’t been able to stretch far enough to accommodate replacing a few blood-soaked undergarments and those pantyliners?

I was lucky. For too many girls, the products that mark “becoming a woman” are luxuries, not givens. And for young women worldwide, getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections. All because too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue.

We need to move beyond the stigma of “that time of the month” – women’s feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time.

In 1986, Gloria Steinem wrote that if men got periods, they “would brag about how long and how much”: that boys would talk about their menstruation as the beginning of their manhood, that there would be “gifts, religious ceremonies” and sanitary supplies would be “federally funded and free”. I could live without the menstrual bragging – though mine is particularly impressive – and ceremonial parties, but seriously: Why aren’t tampons free?

So, why aren’t they “free,” like toilet paper, soap, seat covers, and paper towels? I wouldn’t describe those things as free, necessarily. They’re complimentary. They’ve just become so commonplace that we take them for granted. It’s true that OSHA and local ordinances can dictate how many restrooms a business has to have, dependent on number of employees or maximum occupancy level, but I think those rules and regulations are unnecessary. These days, if a business wants to stay in business, they’ll have restrooms, and they’ll generally be available to the public. So, if women want tampons to be offered as complimentary in public restrooms, they should band together and petition those establishments to provide them. It’s a simple market solution.

That’s of course very different from petitioning the government to provide them to all women at taxpayer expense, or having the government mandate that businesses provide them, the former being more of what Ms. Valenti is arguing for.

If Valenti had access to government-mandated and taxpayer-subsidized tampons, would her embarrassing moment as an 11-year-old have been averted?