Menstruation Happens. Period: The Cost of Being Female

By: Mikyla Khan

Periods. They Happen. We do not control them. 

Menstruation is the process of blood discharging from the lining of the uterus. It usually occurs once a month from the ages of puberty to menopause. The average person who menstruates endures a median number of 451.3 total periods over 34.7 years. Over a lifetime we spend around 11.3 years menstruating. Fun… right? 

Menstrual periods have the power to intervene into the daily lives of students everywhere.

“I will go an unhealthy amount of time without changing my pad because I don’t want to waste more pads,” says Senior Gabe Banner. “The less pads I use, the less I have to go out and buy. I have to get the heavy flow and overnight, and those are more expensive than the regular kind. It is kind of gross how often I will risk my health just to not go out and buy more pads.”

Not only is experiencing a menstrual period expensive, but it can be highly unpredictable as well.

“Funny story, my periods are really irregular,” Senior Ashlyn Peek laughs. “I experience months in between, and then they will last for months. There was a point in time where it got so bad, I would just carry the box [of tampons] in my backpack, just in case.”

There will be blood… on your pants. If you’re at school and a period comes by surprise or you run out of the necessary products, pads and tampons are only available in the nurse’s office at Jenks High School. Having to take class time to travel to the smallest corner of the Math and Science can be a pain. Why are necessary period products not readily available in every bathroom? 

“I shouldn’t have to walk all the way to the Math and Science Center every time I feel some blood in my pants,” Banner laughs. “What am I supposed to do when I’m in building 5 and I feel a little leakage? What am I going to do then? I’m going to waddle my blood stained pants all the way to the Math and Science. The walk of shame. I will go to the bathroom. I will wrap my underwear in toilet paper. I will cross my fingers and pray, and I am not religious!”

Having feminine hygiene products available in only one location at Jenks High School can be an issue. Administration was asked if there is a possibility of expanding the locations on campus in which pads and tampons can be accessed? 

“This is where it becomes a double-edged sword and almost hypocrisy. It comes down to cost,” Assistant Principal Ellen Vannoy stated. “We have not thought about it [expanding pads/tampons to other buildings] because the Math and Science is considered our central location. It can’t hurt to do a test run with pads and tampons available in the bathrooms.”

However administration has doubts as to the effectiveness of providing feminine hygiene products in multiple locations.

Vannoy states, “I think you have to ask yourselves ‘what if one person takes everything?’ or ‘what is the long term goal?’ ” 

A few years ago in the Dining Hall bathrooms, there was a basket filled with pads, tampons, and a couple notes with positive affirmations. We do not know where they came from, but an effort to make these products available in another location was made. 

“I remember it being there a couple times. The thing that kind of sucked is that I only saw it in those bathrooms,” says Banner. “From my understanding it was a student(s) and not administration.”

Many girls who attended Jenks Middle School recall 25¢ dispensers being available in the bathrooms. However, Middle School Administration was consulted and the dispensers are not in use.

“We do not fill the dispensers in the girls bathrooms,” states Jenks Middle School Assistant Principal Lenna Coffman. “The nurses office has a supply of pads only for students and we also keep a supply in the counseling office.”

Although these dispensers exist and are at the disposal of Jenks, they are not put in to use. In contrast to the High School, the Middle School has period products available in their counseling offices.

Although the issue of the availability of feminine hygiene products is of vital importance, it may not reach the attention of people in power.

“I honestly don’t know enough about the current issues and why there would be constraints to offering [feminine hygiene products] or not,” stated Jenks High School Site Principal David Beiler. “That has not been an issue at the state level as far as I know.”

According to Global Citizen and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization girls are less likely to graduate from secondary school and worldwide 131 million girls are out of school- 100 million are high school age. Nearly 1 in 5 American girls have missed school due to a lack of period protection. Without proper education and resources, girls can miss 10-20% of school days. Sometimes they drop out completely.

“To keep kids in school, we need to provide that [pads/tampons] for them and not make it an embarrassment for them to have to go and ask a teacher or a nurse for it,” says family and consumer science teacher Rebecca McAmis. “If we spread awareness and make people feel more comfortable, menstruation is not as scary of a situation.”

Jenks High School administration reassures access to resources are available to aid students if needed.

“We definitely want to hook them [students] up with resources and that is why we have social workers and other resources for students in need. Whether it is feminine hygiene products, food, clothing, and other basic needs, we have resources to connect them with because we want to make sure they have access to them,” says Beiler.

There is a precedent to supplying free menstrual products for students at Jenks. Schools in New York City began to supply free products in 2016 and the state followed in 2018. 

A tweet from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo April 2, 2018 stated “Schools in New York State will now be required to provide free menstrual products in restrooms for girls in grades 6 through 12. Menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap, but can be one expense too many for struggling families.”

View image on Twitter

Illinois has a similar law and California mandates free feminie products in schools. 

 In the past Jenks has done a baby shower and women’s shelter drive. According to McAmis, there is a possibility of adding pads and tampons to that list in the future.

McAmis says, “Pads and tampons would be a great addition. To have a place where people can come and get something would be great, where they would not have to ask or feel embarrassed.”

Issues concerning feminine products are part of a larger national trend known as the “pink tax.” According to Listen Money Matters, the pink tax is gender-based pricing on products intended for women, which only have cosmetic differences from comparable products intended for men. This pricing discrimination against women causes women to pay more for comparable products and services. No, this is not an actual tax, it is a cultural and societal burden that has cast a shadow on the lives of women around the country. 

“The pink tax is just sexism,” says Peek. “I need period products. I can’t not go buy it, and it’s being taxed.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020, to date, there is still a 31.4% average gender wage gap that remains to be closed globally. Women are paid less but are expected to pay more for basic products. According to Business Insider, women’s products such as deodorant and shampoo can cost 10% more than men’s. Common services and payments such as mortgages, car insurance, car repairs, and dry cleaning are generally more expensive for women. Even haircuts, clothing, and razors cost more.

“I never really thought about it [differences in price] other than just saying ‘it is what it is’ but that’s the problem,” says Vannoy. “This generation is bringing some of these issues to light. We have to push out awareness on what the pink tax is; awareness without vulnerability, embarrassment, or shame.” 

It is genuinely surprising that adults in our society were unaware of this tax that affects their daily lives. Once the fact is brought to a person’s attention, we see that products targeted towards women generally cost more.

“I wasn’t quite aware of it. I had noticed it at the store, but I wasn’t really aware that this was a real thing,” stated McAmis. “Since it has been brought to my attention, I notice it everywhere. For example, I went to purchase Biore nose strips, the men’s were about $9.57 and the women’s were $13-something.”

One of the most controversial parts of the pink tax is the “tampon tax.” Almost all U.S. states exempt non-luxury necessities such as groceries and prescriptions from tax. In states like Colorado where private jet parts are untaxed, and Missouri, where bingo supplies are untaxed, purchasing pads or tampons is taxed because it is deemed as not a necessity. All but ten states, including Oklahoma, charge a tax on pads and tampons, despite the fact that it is a necessity.

“Companies know that this [period products] is something people need to have, so they bump up the price and add a tax,” says Peek. “What are we going to do, not buy pads?”

According to the Tax Foundation, as of January 2017, Oklahoma charges a 4.50% sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Fun Fact: Oklahoma charges full taxes on groceries and feminine hygiene products, but sun lamps and sauna baths are untaxed according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. 

“With taxing period products, people [government] do not take into account how much people have to buy when your flow is heavy, or light, or irregular,” says Peek. “It can get really expensive, one time I spent $70 on period products.”

Prescription drugs like Viagra that treat erectile dysfunction are tax-free, but necessary feminine hygiene products that are needed for menstruation out of a woman’s control is not.

“Pads should be more affordable if not just plain out free. Everyone who menstruates needs that, [period products]” says Banner.

Oklahoma’s government is able to take advantage of a natural occurrence despite the fact that half of the population menstruates. 

“I just want people to not capitalize on the fact that I have a period,” says Peek. “I have no control over this.”

In 2018 the Pink Tax Repeal Act was introduced to the House floor by Democrat Jackie Speier. The act intended to “prohibit the pricing of consumer products and services that are substantially similar if such products or services are priced differently based on the gender of the individuals for whose use the products are intended or marketed or for whom the services are performed or offered.” It failed. The Pink Tax Repeal Act (H.R. 2048) was introduced to the 116th Congress April 3, 2019. It still has yet to be passed by the House and Senate. Last year the Ohio Senate voted to pass a similar repeal; could Oklahoma be next? 

McAmis says, “If we keep buying these things and don’t advocate for ourselves, it is just going to keep happening.”

Soon most of us will be able to vote in upcoming elections and make a real difference in our country. You can help the fight against the pink tax by contacting your local representative (Kevin Hern,) state senators ( James Inhofe and James Lankford,) and Jenks Public Schools Board of Education. Let us break down social stigmas and taboos. Help a girl out, only we have the power to change the norms of our society. 

**Ax the Pink Tax** & celebrate National Period Day on October 19, 2020.

Take a look at some examples of the pink tax:

unequally priced men's and women's razors
Image result for examples of pink tax
View image on Twitter
Image result for examples of pink tax
The girl's version of the exact same helmet costs an extra $5.

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