Seven Laws That Period-Shame Women

by Lani Seelinger

You don't need me to tell you that getting your period is unpleasant. American lawmakers apparently do, though, because there are a ton of laws that period shame women. So, male lawmakers, I'm talking to you, because the only men who understand how nasty it is to get a period are the ones who were born with the blessing and curse that is a uterus.

First, you get that flood of emotions before the period starts that makes you hate everyone and doubt your entire life. Then comes the bleeding itself, and it doesn't always wait patiently until you're in the bathroom with a tampon in hand. Oh, and that's assuming you have the money to buy a box of feminine hygiene products, or the change to get one from the box in the bathroom.

Then there are the cramps and the general malaise of the first day or two — it's not contagious, but it sure is painful. Then that goes away, and you're left to bleed out of your vagina for a few more days.

In a perfect world, everyone would be falling over themselves to make this monthly trial as easy as possible for the people who have to go through it. This, needless to say, is not a perfect world — and these are some of the laws that are preventing it from being one.


The Tax On Menstrual Products

There are only 10 states in the U.S. where you can buy menstrual products without being subject to sales tax — and five of those have no sales tax at all. Tampons and pads, apparently, just don't qualify as the sort of necessity that can't be taxed. In California, for example, Pop-Tarts aren't taxed, but tampons are. Gloria Steinem put it best:

The tampon tax is part of an overall economic system in which the dry cleaner charges more for a blouse than a shirt — in which men are assumed to be buying necessities and women are assumed to be buying luxuries.


Female Inmates Don't Automatically Get Tampons Or Pads

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Female inmates across the country have their menstrual hygiene products rationed — so, as Rep. Grace Meng wrote in an editorial, they might get five pads to share with their bunkmate for an entire period. Two or three pads for an entire period? When it's flowing heavily, you need more than that in a day. Meng is currently fighting for the "Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2017," which would require prisons to provide tampons and pads on demand for all female prisoners. After all, they get the food, clothes, and shelter that they need — why should these products be anything different?


No Mandate To Help Homeless Women With Their Periods

Tampon tax or no, most women never have to face the choice between lunch or a fresh pad. On the other hand, homeless women have to make this choice regularly. These sorts of products are often absent in large numbers from shelters, or else women don't feel safe going to the shelters to even try — so instead, they end up using rags, socks, or just nothing.

That's a lose, lose, lose situation for some of the most vulnerable women in the entire population. Rep. Meng's proposed legislation would allow money from the Emergency Food and Shelter Grant Program to pay for menstrual products, making them more available to homeless women who direly need them. The only question is, why isn't that already the case?


No Requirement To List The Ingredients In Tampons Or Pads

Generally, it's nice to know what you're putting into your body. You can look at the ingredients on a bag of Cheetos and see exactly what sort of delicious nastiness you're about to put your stomach through. Tampons and pads, however? No such luck.

The FDA regulates them as medical products, so the producers don't have to disclose all of the materials that go into them. There's been constant pressure from Democratic congresswomen to change this, but the proposed legislation has never even gotten a vote.

It's unclear why regulating and studying the products used in menstrual hygiene products should be such a controversial issue; after all, half of the population has to use these products for much of their lives (assuming they have the resources to access them). And apparently, the other half can't be bothered to find out whether they, like, cause cancer. Just for example.


All The Laws Surrounding Birth Control

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Contrary to delusional Republican beliefs, women don't just use birth control because we're crazed sex maniacs. Some women need birth control because it makes cramps manageable, or because it takes care of stubborn cases of acne. Hell, even just wanting to know when to expect your period is a perfectly valid reason for getting on the pill, whether or not you're having sex at all.

And yet, getting access to birth control has been a fight literally spanning centuries. The Affordable Care Act mandated that insurance plans include birth control, but as you've no doubt noticed, this has come under fire from multiple conservative outlets. The medicine and the science allowing women to take care of themselves as comfortably as possible — but there are unfortunately still too many people who would like to take that out of the reach of women who need it.


Specifically, The Laws (And Cost) Surrounding IUDs

Want to stop your period entirely? Don't feel like having to take a pill every days until you decide you want to get pregnant? There's a birth control option for that. I haven't gotten a real period in almost four years, thanks to a little friend I call Mirena — in other words, my trusty IUD. No cramps, almost no bleeding, and I can count the times I've PMS-ed since its insertion on one hand. Almost like being a man, right?

I was lucky enough to be living in a country where I could get one for free without any trouble or moralizing, however. Unfortunately, IUDs can often be very expensive up front, and some conservative groups think that they cause abortions — based on zero science, of course. This means that while they are by far the most effective and easiest form of birth control in addition to being a great way to spare a woman from the monthly pain and hassle of a period, they're often totally inaccessible.

Can you imagine medication for, like, erectile disfunction or male-pattern baldness being this difficult to come by? Looks like the double standard at work to me.


No Mandated Sick Days

Pre-menopausal women who don't have IUDs are guaranteed to feel awful at least one or two days a month. Cramps, headaches, general ickiness, mood swings, stomach issues, you name it — it depends on the woman, and the month. However, the U.S. doesn't mandate paid sick leave. Some companies are subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that only requires unpaid sick leave — only after the employee has been working at the company for a while, and only in serious cases.

If you're a person who gets really serious cramps — like, the cramps that make women faint, for instance — then the country's fine with you going to work even though you're in such pain. In fact, it's fine if you do that twelve times a year, and by the way, please don't talk about why you're a little bit dazed, because people don't like to hear about it. Because that's fair. I'll definitely admit that the culture around sick leave in the U.S. needs to change for everyone, not just women on their periods — but wouldn't it be great if a guaranteed monthly illness for half the population were enough to do that?

The period may have gone public in 2015, according to Cosmopolitan, but there's still a whole lot of work to be done to bring the culture around to a point where all women will have access to support and supplies they need to bear their periods, physical and otherwise. If the aforementioned pieces of legislation either go through or disappear into the dustbin of terrible laws, then each time will be a step in the right direction. For now, women will have to take this into their own hands and keep fighting for this particular slice of equality and justice.