In a new video, Amber Rose serves as a model and spokesperson for a one-of-a-kind necklace. Dressed in a revealing black dress and standing inside a luxurious hotel room, she wraps her hands around a 156-diamond-studded, 18-karat white gold pendant hanging on a custom-made bezel chain. She twists it open. “Where else would you keep something 36 states tax like a luxury?”
Then she pulls out a tampon.
A movement taking root around the world and across the country has led some states and entire nations to abandon the “tampon tax”—a term encompassing all of the taxes women pay for menstrual products of all varieties. Thirty-six states tax menstrual products, some of which make tax exemptions for kettle corn and viagra, because their tax codes deem feminine hygiene products a luxury. Period Equity’s stance on this resounds: Periods are not luxuries. Period.
The PSA for Period Equity—the nation’s first-ever law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity—premiered at Rose’s OPENed Women’s Conference and annual SlutWalk on September 30. Rose posted the PSA to Instagram; “Tell the government where to stick this tax,” she wrote as a caption. The video now has over 1.4 million views.
“When people first see the video, they’ll think I’m actually selling jewelry, and then I pull out the tampon, and it’s like, ‘Oh! Oh wow, now we understand,’” Rose said in an exclusive interview with Newsweek. “I just feel like men will never understand. They’re probably in charge of the tax on tampons, and that’s why I talk to women and tell them that we need to be in higher positions and hire people who understand us.”
The existence of the tampon tax begs the question: Do the men who enforce the tax believe women can live without the products? Half of the population knows that we can’t. And although lifting taxes on menstrual products would mark an end to an unfair practice, true menstrual equity requires fighting for even more.
“In terms of thinking about menstrual policies and ensuring that in particular low income and other marginalized or vulnerable people could be impacted by new laws, the tampon tax, I always viewed it as the smart starting point, an easy way to get people starting to talk and think about the economics of menstruation,” Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of Period Equity and author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, told Ms. “I’m eager to enforce this in all 50 states, because I think it is unfair and is something that we would all benefit, if menstrual products were exempt from sales tax. But also because it was a way to leverage other discussions too. That’s my commitment to it, to fight on its face is relevant to me, but it’s also a gateway to other fights.”
In some ways, Weiss has already succeeded. The burgeoning movement for menstrual equity has made major waves. Since 2015, 24 states have introduced legislation to end taxation of menstrual products; four have succeeded. Canada axed its tax that same year. Legislation signed into law today by Governor Jerry Brown’s signature in California makes tampons and pads free for low-income students; on the national level, Senators Cory Brown (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are waging a fight to make menstrual products free for incarcerated women. (We interviewed Weiss-Wolf about their bill, called the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.)
You can find out more about the tampon tax and how to take action at periodequity.org.