Should tampons be tax free?

Editor’s Note: Dasha Burns is a writer and works as a strategist and creative content producer at Oliver Global, a consulting agency where she focuses on leveraging media and digital technology for global development. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Dasha Burns: Some women's products are routinely priced higher than men's. Tampons are taxed, when products like Rogaine are not

A lawsuit in New York aims to add state to the 5 that don't tax tampons. She says to do otherwise helps institutionalize discrimination

CNN  — 

I use men’s deodorant. Why? Because beyond the fact that I secretly love the smell of Old Spice Pure Sport, I refuse to pay a higher price for nothing more than marketing to my “lady senses.” Before you brush me off as cheap or overdramatic, consider this: Gender-based pricing means women pay on average $1,351 more per year for the same products than men do.

Beyond products, women are also routinely charged more than men for the same services. I was aghast when I compared my dry-cleaning bill to my boyfriend’s, considering several of our shirts are basically identical. (Just realizing we might be turning into one of those couples that look the same – an issue for another time).

Dasha Burns

While these examples are infuriating and burdensom e– they’re mostly frustrating inconveniences, possible to circumvent if you really try. You could take a page out of my book and replace some of your more expensive female-focused products with a men’s equivalent, or stop buying clothes that require dry cleaning.

But one thing women can’t change, period, is – well – their period. This monthly event requires that we buy products, like tampons and sanitary pads, for which there is no cheaper male equivalent. We can’t exactly decide to stop buying them and continue like it’s business as usual while our bodies ruin our dry-clean-only pants.

But in most states, these products come with a sales tax. That may seem perfectly acceptable, considering most of us expect a sales tax when we shop and don’t look too closely at our state tax codes.

But state governments frequently exempt many “necessary” goods from sales tax, like prescription drugs, some over-the-counter medicines, and groceries. Even products like Chapstick and incontinence pads are often tax exempt. But only five states – Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey — have chosen not to tax tampons. Apparently, state governments have a hard time believing that tampons are a necessity. I have a hard time believing this idiocy.

The issue has spurred a campaign to eliminate the “tampon tax” and it has been gaining ground across the country and beyond. In California, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has proposed a bill to exempt tampons from sales tax. Meanwhile, Canada has already eliminated the unfair practice.

This week, five women in New York decided to stand up for Aunt Flo and filed a lawsuit against the state to end the tax on tampons and other essential products like sanitary pads.

Women spend about $70 per year on tampons and sanitary pads. Multiply that by about 40 years, add it to the increased price on many other products and services, and suddenly being a woman is costing a whole lot.

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For low-income women, access to these “luxury” goods can be a real challenge, especially since food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products.

But this goes beyond the dollar amount. This is institutional and systematic sexism. It’s harming women financially and reflecting a deeper sentiment regarding (or disregarding) women’s bodies.

The New York State Department of Taxes and Finance says “feminine hygiene” products like tampons and sanitary napkins are subject to sales tax because they are “generally used to control a normal bodily function and to maintain personal cleanliness.”

But Rogaine is exempt? I guess a midlife crisis is considered a medical condition.

I’ve tried to think of a male equivalent. Certainly there are products that are purchased primarily by men that are taxed. Condoms are the closest example, and that is still not comparable. Periods are biological functions that occur regularly for decades and are completely out of women’s control.

Because we’re talking about products that are necessary for women to be healthy productive humans, discriminatory pricing is unacceptable. The practice has echoes of biblical depictions of women being sequestered in “red tents” during their time of the month.

If state governments can deem products like foot powder, dandruff shampoo, and Rogaine tax-exempt as “nonluxury” goods, I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t do the same for tampons. It’s clear only men were at the table for this tax talk. No woman would ever consider cramping, bloating and bleeding every month a “luxury.”

Right now, more states tax tampons than candy. If I can binge on empty calories tax-free, I should bleed tax-free.

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