Tampon Tax Tyranny

I first heard about the “tampon tax” in an article I read in Time magazine. Women were protesting the classification of tampons as “luxury items,” holding signs that read “No uterus, No opinion” and “Stop taxing periods, period.” It seemed like an issue that would be easy to get behind. I have heard menstruation called many things, but “luxurious” has never been one of them. Shame on the government for imposing an additional tax on such an essential product.

Ever the vigilant feminist, I decided to write an article about this tax so that my fellow women can feel even more disgruntled than they already do. So I took to the streets (of Google) in hopes of finding some evidence to buffet my winds of rage.

Surprisingly, however, I did not find what I expected. I looked up the tax code for Washington state, specifically, the retail sales tax code. I was looking for health exemptions, from which sanitary napkins would be heinously omitted. But I found no such category. I found many other exemption categories, some bizarre at first glance (waste vegetable oil) and some obvious (food). Yes, tampons and pads were not listed but there was really no category in which I would expect to find them.

This somewhat changed the problem in my eyes. There is a difference between applying an additional tax on an item that doesn’t deserve one and not making an exception for an item that many think one would. When I found no evidence of similar hygiene products garnering a special tax status, it seemed more like a non-issue than an attack of women. Tampons are taxed the same as most every other product one would find in a Rite-Aid. I thought that perhaps this wasn’t a Washington state sort of problem. Maybe I had never heard of a tampon tax because, in our most progressive of states, there is no such thing.

But in a map published on the website Fusion, 40 states are shown in dark pink as “taxing tampons.” Washington is among them. I find this map grossly misleading. What the map should say is “doesn’t not tax tampons.” Yes, tampons get taxed, but only because they are lumped in with everyday regular retail goods. They don’t fall into any existing exemption categories in Washington state tax law, as it stands today.

While I don’t consider tampons luxury items, I don’t know that I would pick up the mantle of demanding their tax exempt status. If “used to maintain good hygiene” was the only prerequisite to tax exemption, an entire slew of products would be included. While tampons and pads are necessary when dealing with menstruation, I wouldn’t say they are “necessities” of life, like food and medicine. Without food, you die. Without medicine when you are sick, you die. These are necessities. You don’t die if you don’t have pads and tampons. There are other methods of dealing with menstruation, as unappealing as they may be. Furthermore, not all women need sanitary napkins. Female children do not, those on menstruation-stopping birth control do not, and women who have undergone menopause do not. Menstruation products, like shampoo and toothpaste, are modern-day staples, but they are still not “necessities.”

Surprisingly, I can’t get behind this one. As women, I believe we must carefully choose our battles. Otherwise, we risk being dismissed as overly combative and sensitive. Treating sanitary products the same as most other retail goods seems fair and equal, especially since I didn’t see any male products being given special exemption status either. Yes, tampons are expensive. But it’s an expensive world we live in.