Tampon Wars: A Bloody Embarrassment


Stereotypes tell me that at least 50% of you are going to recoil from this post because of the title. Because you’re men and have a genetic condition that renders you incapable of seeing the word tampon without having a panic attack, let alone stride confidently through the aisles of the supermarket grasping the box of Tampax Super your other half requested.

I choose not to believe in stereotypes. They’re a luxury from a bygone age, when we didn’t use them to obfuscate and externalise our responsibilities.

You’re better than that.


In March of this year, Nigel Webster wrote a piece in the New Statesman about his experiences working at a food bank. He described a meeting he’d had with a young woman who cried when he offered her sanitary protection; it would replace the newspaper she had been using.

If you’re a woman, you’ll know about this. Even those of you who have utilised the last twenty years’ cycles to good effect and can now predict to the minute when Auntie Flo will strike, you’ll recognise the humiliation of being caught out. Having to contrive something to see you through to the safety and security of your own bathroom without anyone suspecting. Most of you won’t have had to use newspaper (not more than once, anyway), but the shame is universal.

Carrie_1976 Nudity

I recently found myself in the fortunate position of actually having a tampon when I needed it (I’m not one of those organised people, but I’ve been reliably informed they exist) but not having the means to dispose of the applicator, I ended up carrying it home in my pocket wrapped in tissue and feeling filthy. A bit like Carrie White in that infamous 1976 shower scene.

You should never underestimate the power of popular culture, particularly when Stephen King is involved.

That it’s possible for a woman like me – who revels in the benefits of being first world born and solvent – to feel this way in 2016 is sobering. A casual conversation with a friend recently revealed she had encountered the same experience just weeks before. It reminded me of how lucky we actually are.

The tampon tax is the public face of this war, presented to appease women and demonstrate that the matter is being considered at the highest level. You may recall some months ago that George Osborne responded to anger over the current rate of 5% by tabling a deal with EU members to scrap it. It went quiet. #Brexit happened.

And last night, this.


Well done, everyone. Once again we’re catastrophically lagging behind the rest of the world. New York have abolished tax on tampons. Kenya did in 2011.


The reality of this, like the reality of most wars, is dirtier and more unpleasant than most would be prepared to acknowledge. To a degree it’s understandable why a lot of people, both men and women, would rather not engage when it’s possible to ignore.

But the notion women in the 21st century being forced to substitute proper, safe sanitary protection for inadequate, possibly dangerous measure, is not something I can tolerate in good conscience and neither should you, regardless of gender. Tampons aren’t expensive for someone like me and I would happily buy an extra pack and donate it to help women for whom the decision is not which brand to buy, or which protection level, but buying sanitary protection or food for their kids.

I’m going to tag this post to Tampax, Lil Lets, Superdrug, Boots and various other organisations that produce or sell sanitary products to see whether they’d be prepared to put something in place. If you can do the same, that would be great.

I’ll let you know what they come back with, but in the meantime, please spread the word.

This isn’t a feminist issue, it’s a humanitarian issue. And it’s an embarrassment to this country.

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