The other week, I was in the market for a new razor. We had run out of disposables at home, which are preferred by my mom, but I had just discovered via happy accident of having to borrow from my friend’s supply the wonders of shaving with a swivel-head. Thus, when I went to the store with my dad, I did not start by looking for mom’s usual brand, I set out on an adventure into the unknown. I knew what I wanted: something with replaceable blades and a swivel head. Simple enough. My journey through seemingly endless Walmart aisles was long and grueling, but at last my weary eyes set upon a sign that directed me to the object of my quest, the holy grail: “Razors”. Upon closer inspection, the aisle was indeed full of razors, but they were all very clearly marked as men’s. Now I don’t normally have any problem buying from the men’s section(their sizing is infinitely less complicated), but I’m not afraid to admit when I want a coconut scented lubrication strip. No, I don’t know exactly how it works, but my goodness if that stuff doesn’t smell fantastic. So I was understandably disappointed and more than a little confused when I walked up and down the entire length of the aisle and all I found were deep blue and orange packages advertising chiseled jawlines and “ultra steel!” blades. I am more than aware of gender-based marketing, but is it possible this Walmart sold only men’s razors? Exasperated, I left the aisle and scanned the rest of the hygiene section, certain there must be women’s razors somewhere around here. Luckily, I was correct, and I eventually found women’s razors under a sign reading “Shaving Accessories”.
How…tasteful? Discreet? I’m not even sure what impression that sign gave me, other than the idea that the word “razor” was suddenly far too explicit. I wasn’t aware there were “accessories” for shaving. I especially never considered that a razor, the very thing that one cannot shave without, was just for decoration. The unsettling thing is, women’s hygiene products are often considered “accessories” like this, not necessities. A prime example is the tax on menstrual products. Here’s the thing: I have no problem with the tax itself. I know I am supposed to be adamantly against the idea of anything that makes menstrual products less accessible, and I do believe that the amount of people in this world who are unable to take care of themselves because of some awful stigma we invented is ridiculous, but here’s my reasoning. The tax itself is not the issue. Plenty of things in this world are taxed. Electricity, some medicines, even running water is technically taxed, and these things are, to many people, a genuine necessity. Even other hygiene products like toilet paper are not tax exempt, and those items are arguably as necessary as menstrual products and serve similar purposes. What I’m trying to say is that any item for sale could be subject to tax, and many products that could be considered necessities already are. So while I don’t want anything to stand in the way of good menstrual health, it is only reasonable that we don’t attack just one tax when there are taxes on so many other necessities, not just because it makes sense but because there are so many other issues that are greater contributors to the problem on menstrual health.
Having said that, I can say with complete assurance that I am more than a little unhappy with the idea of women’s hygiene being considered a “luxury”. I think I speak for all of us when I say there is nothing luxurious about having your period. This is what we should be focused on in the fight for menstrual health, the “shaving accessories”. No, we aren’t going to swarm that particular Walmart and rip the sign down, but the concept that our health is something that needs to be euphemized is absolutely abhorrent. How many of you have seen an ad for tampons or pads? What comes to mind? You’re most likely imagining a smiling woman on a bike or at the beach, without a care in the world. Thanks to greater awareness in some companies, ads for menstrual products have gotten a lot more empowering, but ask yourself how often you actually see a pad in those commercials? How often they stress how discreet their product is? In most commercials, they never use red liquid or even the color red, and they test their pads on camera like a commercial for paper towels, with some kind of blue liquid that resembles laundry detergent. I’m not suggesting they cover their pads in menstrual blood in all its sticky glory, no one said looking at that stuff is pleasant, but it’s important to take note of these details. No matter how well-intentioned they are, the majority of menstrual products are advertised as though they don’t want anyone to know they are designed for periods. But don’t hate their marketing team, don’t swear off brands that do this. The fact is that yes, there are a lot of problems in how women’s products are sold, but they are marketed the way they are because it works.
Let’s talk about the pink tax. 42% of the time, women pay more than men for basic products. In one comparative study done in Atlanta, personal care products like deodorant and razors or, I’m sorry, “shaving accessories”, were $4.00 more than those same products in the men’s section. These facts are infuriating, but the important question is why. Why are women’s products so much more expensive? Why are they euphemized and marketed as easy to conceal? Because there is pressure on women to be discreet with their health, because we are told we have to buy beauty products and use fancy conditioner, it is the society we live in that creates these problems. Marketers would not be selling makeup and personal care products to women at such high prices if we hadn’t already been willing to buy it, and why would hygiene products be euphemized as “accessories” if we weren’t conditioned to be embarrassed by our own health? It all comes back to the stigmas and pressures that affect women all the time. So don’t blame companies for trying to make money. Unfortunately, the problems run much deeper in the little things we are told like that we are supposed to hide our tampons, or when we see a girl on TV who is embarrassed after being caught shopping in the women’s hygiene aisle. It’s all the times you were told to wear more makeup or that you were too young for it, when you were told to cover yourself up or called a prude for not showing enough.
The connotations associated with buying pads and the absurd prices of a shampoo that works the same as a man’s but promises “glowing, silky hair with a lasting scent” are all reinforced every day by us, the consumers. I know it is so much easier to go after little problems like one tax or one commercial, but it’s a fool’s errand. It is not easy to uproot issues that have been embedding themselves in our society for centuries, but hacking at every tiny branch in our way accomplishes nothing in the long run. So I urge you to always look for the why beyond the what, and work with us to get rid of stigmas surrounding health. You don’t have to hide yourself, you don’t have to be ashamed of your own body and its natural processes. Go to work or school and walk to the bathroom without crushing your pad into your back pocket, and if someone says that your period is “unappealing” well…why are you responsible for appealing to them in the first place?
But if that pesky tax is preventing someone around you from taking care of themselves, then screw it, do ‘em a solid and just buy them a pack or two of pads. Being a social justice warrior is awesome, but helping out those who need it is a much more immediate and effective solution.
For further reading on the pink tax, check out The Pink Tax- The Cost of Being a Female Consumer by Candice Elliot: https://www.listenmoneymatters.com/the-pink-tax/