Taking on the Tampon Tax

Imagine, if you will, that you’re a sixteen-year-old girl too poor to buy tampons or menstrual pads. You’ve just gotten your period. Luckily, this happened before you climbed onto the school bus this morning. You have no choice but to stay home today–and perhaps tomorrow and the next day-until your bleeding slacks off.

There’s a term for what you’re experiencing. It’s called “period poverty,” and it affects one in four teenagers in Tennessee.

State Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) wants to do something to help. In January, she introduced SB 1724, which would add feminine hygiene products to the list of items eligible for tax-free purchase during Tennessee’s annual sales tax holiday, observed this year July 31-August 2. “We must recognize these products as an essential part of women’s health,” she said. “They are as necessary a school supply as pencils and paper.”

“Not so fast!” said the Republican members, all of them men, on the committee studying the proposal. The charge was led by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), who argued that the measure was too expensive. “This would likely cost the state $130,000 in lost revenue,” he said. “Do you have a way to replace those funds?”

Then, to add insult to injury, he added that he feared women might stockpile feminine hygiene products, purchasing enough during tax-free weekend to last all year. Out-of-control tampon buying, so to speak.

If you’re outraged at such a remark, good. The cost for one month’s worth of feminine hygiene products for one woman is approximately ten dollars. How are poor teenagers who can’t afford even one month’s worth of products going to afford twelve months’ worth??? And, Senator Hensley, how come you’re not worried about folks stockpiling i-pads and ink pens and tennis shoes and t-shirts and spiral notebooks and staplers and all the other eligible stuff they buy during tax-free weekend?

As I pondered what might make a state legislator take such a ridiculous stand, I came up with a few theories. Perhaps Hensley and his cohorts are trying to reassure voters in their districts that they’re fiscally responsible. Because $130,000 out of a 40 billion dollar budget is a big deal, right? Or maybe these men really don’t understand how women’s bodies, including menstruation, work. The old “there’s certain things a man just doesn’t know” argument.

That can’t be the case with Joey Hensley. He’s a family practice physician. He’s been married (and divorced) four times. He has two daughters. He almost certainly knows something about menstrual periods. Hensley, who has served in the General Assembly since 2003, runs as a “conservative Christian values” candidate. He’s been in the news for introducing the failed 2012-13 “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would have banned schools from discussing LGBTQ issues. In 2017, he introduced a bill that would classify children born through artificial insemination as illegitimate. It, too, failed. Thank goodness.

In Biblical times, women spent their “bleeding days” in in a place called the red tent, partly because they were considered unclean and partly because they had no feminine hygiene products. Sadly, it would seem that certain members of our state legislature might be willing, perhaps even eager, to return to those times. In the year when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women throughout the nation the right to vote, it’s a crying shame that there are still male lawmakers who want to keep women under their thumb. Some of those lawmakers are right up the road at the Tennessee state capitol.

It’s time to vote them out.

(March 1, 2020)