Like many industries, vintage goods have been hit hard by record inflation and supply chain issues this year. While basic household items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer have returned to stores since the pandemic left shelves empty, the shortage of tampons continues. Price gouging and supply chain issues disproportionately affect women and people who menstruate.
But even before the pandemic and inflation started hitting vintage consumers, feminine essentials like pads, tampons, and even women’s razors tend to be an extra cost to women due to of the pink tax, an increase in the prices of products marketed to women.
What is the pink tax?
Pink tax refers to gender-biased and discriminatory pricing of products and services marketed as “for women”. Retail companies use hot pink, purple or pastel colored packaging to indicate that certain products are designed for women; these items, such as women’s razors, are more expensive than the same products marketed to men.
Kara Stevens, founder of The Frugal Feminista and author of “Heal Your Relationship with Money,” says the pink tax hurts women more than you might think.
“Even though the difference in price for soap, razors, dry cleaning, for example, may be only a few dollars in the individual purchase, it has a cumulative impact on women’s wallets,” Stevens wrote. in an email.
A study by The Balance found that, on average, women pay 13% more than men for similar products. With annual inflation rates exceeding 9% in June, rising prices disproportionately affect women and menstruating people, as these people were already paying higher prices for the same goods. Stevens says it costs more to be a woman in this world.
“Yes, it is, especially when you look at the amount of wealth lost in a woman’s lifetime just because she is a woman,” she says. “Based on the current pay gap, women in the United States lose an average of $406,280 over a 40-year career compared to white men. These average losses are magnified when comparing racial and ethnic groups .”
In 2020, women earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to the US Census Bureau.
What is menstrual poverty?
Menstrual poverty refers to insufficient access to menstrual and feminine hygiene products and education. Although it is slowly becoming a more common term, menstrual poverty is still a concept that many people are unaware of.
“It affects at least 500 million people worldwide,” Stevens says. “On a more practical level, people who live in menstrual poverty are not able to buy the menstrual products they need; in many cases, this means that they cannot go to school or at work or otherwise participate in daily life or, if they do, experience anxiety and fear that others will become aware that they are menstruating.”
Menstrual products are a necessary cost to feel comfortable and hygienic during this time of the month. However, 26 states tax menstrual products as luxury items rather than medical necessities. The average woman spends $20 on feminine hygiene products per menstrual cycle, according to estimates by the National Women’s Organization.
People who do not have access to menstrual hygiene products, such as the homeless or low-income people, are often forced to make their own from unsanitary household items like toilet paper and cloths, which which increases their risk of contracting toxic shock syndrome, urinary disorders. respiratory tract infections and yeast infections.
According to a 2019 study published by the research journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, in St. Louis, Missouri alone, two-thirds of low-income women could not afford menstrual products at some point in the previous year, 20% couldn’t afford it each month and about 50% said they had to choose between buying food or vintage goods in the past year. According to Days for Girls, an international non-profit organization that focuses on menstrual health equity, 1 in 4 women worldwide live in period poverty.
Period poverty disproportionately affects women of color, especially Latina and black women. A BMC Women’s Health study that surveyed college-age women found that 24.5% of Latina women and 19% of Black women said they had experienced periods of poverty in the past year, compared to 11. 7% of white women. Similarly, first-generation college students and students born outside the United States were also more likely to experience periods of poverty.
Do government programs pay for menstrual products?
Under the 2020 CARES Act, people can now use employer-funded accounts such as health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, and health reimbursement terms to purchase hygiene products feminine. However, menstrual products are not covered by other government-funded programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Some legislators have tried to solve this problem. Congresswoman Grace Meng, for example, introduced the Menstrual Fairness for All Act of 2021, proposing to use federal grants to provide free period products to schools, the incarcerated, the homeless and even large corporations and federal public buildings. Little has been done at the federal level to make menstrual products more accessible and paid for by government programs.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, independent organisations, citizens and activists have increasingly pushed to provide free hygiene products in schools with some success. Since 2017, five states — California, New York, Illinois, New Hampshire and Virginia — have passed legislation requiring schools to provide free menstrual products, according to the States Education Commission. Many other states have enacted laws regarding the provision of free vintage products to underprivileged students and homeless people since 2021.
While most government programs have failed to cover the cost of menstrual products for those who need them, organizations and programs exist to help low-income people access these products, such as the Healthy Periods program. , a subset of Moms Helping Moms Foundation, a Paris-based New Jersey organization dedicated to providing essential items to underprivileged families. The Healthy Periods program was founded in 2019 to help alleviate period poverty and has donated more than 215,000 menstrual products to low-income people, according to Jordan Langs, the program manager.
“Everyone deserves access to the essential products needed to manage a natural bodily function that is occurring uncontrollably in half the population,” Langs wrote in an email. “Menstrual poverty threatens healthy development and disproportionately restricts access to basic needs and necessities. By providing free access to menstrual products, we can remove these barriers. It’s a matter of dignity, health, gender equality and human rights.”
Sustainable menstrual products as an economical solution
Vintage products are a necessity, but they are expensive and their total price increases year after year of continuous buy-back. Long-lasting menstrual products, which can be reused month after month, can offer a cost-effective and safe alternative.
The average person who menstruates has about 450 periods in their lifetime; with an average of $20 spent on menstrual products per cycle, the cost increases over time to about $9,000 over a lifetime. But according to The Penny Hoarder, switching from disposable pads to reusable pads can save you nearly $100 a year.
Reusable menstrual products on the market today include menstrual underwear, menstrual cups, and reusable sanitary napkins. These products tend to last longer and are more economical. Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years, and reusable pads and menstrual underwear last over 20 cycles. These reusable products may cost more upfront, but they pay for themselves after just a few cycles because you don’t have to keep buying disposables anymore.
If the concept of reusable menstrual products makes you uncomfortable, or if you’ve tried them and they’re not for you, there are also disposable menstrual products that are made in a more sustainable way.
“Sustainable hygiene products offer a way to reduce the cost of maintaining your monthly cycle while being environmentally friendly,” says Langs.
One of the big names in the durable and disposable vintage goods industry today is August, founded in 2021 by Harvard graduate and entrepreneur Nadya Okamoto. Their disposable products are biodegradable and their packaging is compostable.
Companies that sell sustainably made disposables, like August and Grove Collaborative, may be more expensive than vintage products from average pharmacies, but they offer discounted monthly subscription plans, which makes their prices comparable.
Okamoto says she has spent more than half her life fighting to end period stigma and foster open conversations about periods.
“At its core, menstruation is a basic biological function that more than half of the world’s population experiences and makes human life possible. It should be the most normalized celebrated thing,” she says. “And then you look at reality. It’s not celebrated. It is not supported. We don’t have the best products and they are inaccessible. We should live in a period of positive culture.