In 1978, Gloria Steinem imagined a world where men were the ones who menstruated.
It was a world where it would be standard to brag about how long you bled for and how much blood you produced, where lesbians would be said to be scared of blood and where medical research would focus on periods. Most of all, tampons would be state funded - unlike the world we live in today, where sanitary products are taxed at five per cent.
Laura Coryton, a 21-year-old third year politics student at Goldsmiths, is trying to change that with a petition calling on the government to cut the tampon tax, which she will deliver today.
Coryton wants chancellor George Osborne to pledge his support to the campaign before she takes it to the European parliament. He would not need to do anything other than give his support, as Britain cannot unilaterally exclude an item from VAT, but speaking to i100.co.uk Coryton said the chancellor has so far "ignored" them.
“We did email them [his people] four months ago, they just ignored it,” she said. "I don’t think the tax would be implemented if MPs were women."
She added that many of the campaign’s supporters had emailed HMRC, as well as their local MPs and had been told that it was a matter for the EU. However, Coryton believes that “we need to get the UK behind the campaign” in order for the issue to gain the support it needs in Europe and from other major European countries.
When Gordon Brown first cut VAT on tampons in the 2000 Budget, he was seemingly too embarrassed to say the word 'tampon' or even 'sanitary protection' in parliament – with details being announced in a press release. Coryton believes this reticence towards discussing periods persists to this day, adding that the majority male government don’t seem to see the cost of tampons as a “real issue” or something “worth their time”.
“It’s annoying because we need their backing for it to work [in Europe] and all they need to say is ‘I support you’.”
While the government is yet to engage with the issue, the public has. Nearly 200,000 people have signed the Change.org petition and Coryton has been subjected to predictable levels of personal abuse that comes with a public campaign attention, most notably a man who emailed her “with the most mindless comment ever”. “He was basically just saying why won’t women stop complaining, they can just use used newspaper instead of tampons [note to men: they cannot].”
The petition points out that items classified as 'essential' such as flapjacks and exotic meat currently have a zero per cent VAT rate.
So what’s George Osborne more likely to buy – exotic meat or tampons? “He’d definitely be more likely to use exotic meat. The rest of the population won’t.”
She adds: “I don’t think it says much about George Osborne’s attitude to women. The tax has got such sexist undertones because it was initially implemented based on sexist assertions that tampons were non-essential.”