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The bleeding obvious

Frances Ryan’s Guardian article, “Period poverty is leaving women such as Kerry isolated and ashamed” started off with a call for sympathy which I can answer. It described how a woman called Kerry, bringing up three children (two of them autistic) alone and unwaged, sometimes found herself without even £2 for a box of tampons, and could not bring herself to ask the people at the food bank for them. That is sad. Let us be aware that women can find themselves in this position, and help them in a sensitive way.

Then it got stupid.

It isn’t hard to see why sanitary products are often out of reach. Research shows pads and tampons cost women around £13 every month. Add another £8 for new underwear, and then almost a fiver for pain relief. That means women need to find more than £300 each year for periods – or the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent.

The “pads and tampons” link takes you to that well known scientific journal, the Huffington Post. It claimed that respondents to a survey (I saw no mention of who carried it out or how the sample was selected) on average spent the following “on different areas relating to their period”:

· Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

· New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

· Pain relief – £4.50

· Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

· Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Honestly, I could have filled up the remainder of this post without moving my finger from the ? key. “Research shows”?? Chocolates?????? Yeah, I do kinda see that a new DVD, a glossy magazine and a box of choccies can be a comfort when suffering from period pain, but really, we are not talking about desperately needed sanitary essentials here. I also fail to see exactly why one needs new underwear every time there is a spillage. Every time and every month? I mean, sorry to be icky, but things can be washed. Even if there is a substantial group of women who find it unbearable to do anything other than bin bloodstained underwear (heaven knows how they toilet train their kids) they don’t have to spend £8. Tesco sells four pairs of knickers for £4.50. That’s just over a quid a pair.

While we are at Tesco’s, let us look at some of those other prices.

Pain relief £4? Pain relief thirty pence, actually.

Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups £13? A “Feminesse” menstrual cup was fairly pricy at £17.10, but the whole point is that it is reusable and lasts for years. When it came to the tampons and pads or towels most women use, and for which Tesco sell their own-brand products, the prices were as follows: Tesco regular tampons 20-pack: 95p. (A pack of twenty is usually enough for one period.) Tesco super tampons 20-pack: also 95p. Maxi regular sanitary towels 10-pack: 23p. Twenty-three pence. Cheap as chips, as the saying goes. Cheaper.

Tesco is not uniquely benevolent. The other major supermarkets and chains like Superdrug are much the same, or even cheaper.

Frances Ryan is supposed to be the Guardian‘s expert on the deprived, the disabled, those failed by the system. I am not one to demand that politicians or journalists know the price of everything in a shopping basket, but you would think she of all people would have looked at that claim of £13 per month as an average for sanitary products and £4.50 for pain relief, and thought, that’s obviously wrong.

Never mind. The average prices claimed for period products in some silly survey and silly Guardian writers believing them are not my point; the actual prices in the most widely used supermarkets are. Period poverty is not worth bothering about. Capitalism has already solved it. When forty sanitary pads can already be purchased for a pound the money the government would have to spend to make them widely available for free is wasted. Worse than wasted; the salaries of umpteen Period Poverty Support Workers will come out of budgets that could – conceivably – have been used to help the poor. Let me put it another way: someone who cannot afford to pay for sanitary towels also cannot afford food. They do need help, urgently. However passing laws and setting up programmes to supply only that small fraction of the help they need that relates to a couple of packs of tampons is incredibly inefficient. If women in crisis need to be given sanitary products, don’t campaign for the government to launch an initiative, take the initiative yourself. There are charities who specialise in exactly that form of aid and will accept donations in kind or in cash.

As a matter of fact although most of the stories I have read on this subject, including the BBC link from Ryan’s article, have headlines that talk as if the problem is period poverty, when I read the stories below the headlines, the real problem far more often seems to be period ignorance or period embarrassment. But the steps needed to help women and girls with these issues do not generate column inches for journalists, photo opportunities for politicians, or outrage for activists.

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36 comments to The bleeding obvious

  • Mr Ed

    Why am I reminded of the Cold War joke, probably the product of a CIA joke factory?

    What’s the difference between a Lada and a tampon?’

    ‘You get a free tow rope with a tampon.’

  • Paul Marks

    Good post Natalie.

    You have exposed the lies of the Guardian well – and (of course) the BBC really is the Guardian.

  • Chip

    There was a point in the last ten years or so when I transitioned from thinking the journalist has researched the story and likely knows more than I do, and then realized no, they not only know almost nothing about their subject, but this ignorance is deliberate because they are peddling their narrow, inflexible view of the world rather than trying to understand it.

  • Mr Ed

    On a more serious note, surely those complaining about the price of sanitary towels would insist that VAT be removed from them, even if the special low 5% rate applies? That could save 62p per month or cover the cost one month in every 21 months, that over a month a year?

    And that is another reason for us to leave the EU, to abolish VAT.

    Or is it not about the cost of life at all? It isn’t, is it? It’s about moaning, demoralising, decrying and deprecating, lighting fires of indignation, in the name of, one day, burning people.

  • Cal Ford

    These Guardian articles claiming some real person is poverty-stricken through no fault of their own always fall apart under some attention (commentators at Tim Worstall often demolish them).

  • PapayaSF

    “If you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em.”

  • Fraser Orr

    This is a brilliant rhetorical strategy nonetheless. It immediately excludes half the incredulous because as you know, no man would ever dare argue with a woman on the subject of periods.

  • bobby b

    We can not seriously discuss womyn’s entitlement to reimbursement for costs incurred through their menstrual cycles until we can ascribe costs to the psychic pain caused in men through that same process as a set-off.

    Hell, I think I’m owed money.

    😆

    (My 84-y.o. father works in a local foodshelf a couple of days per week. He says they give away lots of “feminine products” daily, and never run out. So, this is not an ignored need.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Now Fraser, don’t be silly. I know of some poor period-deprived schmucks right here on Samizdata who seem quite happy to go to the mat with me, a Woman (hear me roar!), over periods, colons, hyphens — just about any punctuation marks you can think of.

  • RRS

    Again ! the facts don’t fit the narrative.

  • Laird

    I see that Julie is channeling Emily Litella again.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, I’ll see your Emily Litella and raise you one Willy Wonka. ;>)

    ETA: Thanks for the link. That’s a cute sketch, gets a rueful chuckle from me. I seem to be channelling Emily fairly often….

    PS. Actually, my middle name is Emelie! (My mother’s name was Emily, after her grandmother, but she changed the spelling purposely.)

  • Ferox

    I thought the radfems were into free-bleeding anyway, what do they care if tampons cost money?

  • Tim Worstall

    “commentators at Tim Worstall often demolish them”

    Indeed so and we make a particular sport of looking at pieces by Frances Ryan. Other than this period poverty one which we’ve dealt with much as Natalie has done here perhaps my favourite was some bloke getting disability or something, who was desperately worried by the costs of his multiple prescriptions. I did actually contact Ryan to point out that a 12 month NHS certificate, covering all prescription needs for that time period, cost £104. Her response what that he didn’t have £100 quid. I never did get a response to my pointing out that the NHS will finance this over 10 months at no interest cost.

    If an ill person doesn’t have £10 a month then yes, that is indeed a scandal and something we’d want to solve pronto. But “Mike doesn’t have £10” isn’t a line that will float even in The Guardian.

    “Capitalism has already solved it. When forty sanitary pads can already be purchased for a pound the money the government would have to spend to make them widely available for free is wasted. Worse than wasted; the salaries of umpteen Period Poverty Support Workers will come out of budgets that could – conceivably – have been used to help the poor.”

    Indeed so. As I put it at CapX:

    https://capx.co/its-madness-for-government-to-hand-out-tampons/

    “Given my lack of experience in this area, I did actually check this all with a female doctor who pointed out that it’s all a little more complicated than just tampons. Flows vary, some prefer pads, and so on. The very fact that there are so many different designs and types on the market is all the evidence we need that different women prefer different methods of dealing with menses.

    Which, of course, is why it is such rampant idiocy for government to try to distribute the things themselves. We already have great big barns in every city and town in the country packed with all the variations of these products. They’re called shops. All women need is the coin of the realm to browse said barns and purchase the variant they desire. Thus we shouldn’t be handing out menstrual products (emergency supplies in a school cupboard or homeless shelters or even food bank being a different matter): we should be handing out money.”

    At £12 a year even the money problem isn’t really there but still, a National Tampon Service is still the wrong response.

  • staghounds

    You know what’s ickier than your own blood stains?

    Making some poor tax paying hotel maid clean up strangers’ blood and vomit for a couple of hours to pay for your new underwear.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Tim Worstall
    > National Tampon Service

    I suppose the obvious response to such a dreadful idea would be “bloody hell!”

  • Thailover

    At the risk of being labeled an Ayn Rand sociopath, I’m wondering why I’m supposed to subsidize single parenthood and cowardice. You get more of what you subsidize. I want more of the opposite not this crap irresponsibility.

  • Bob H

    “Staff wanted” advert seen in local Primary Care Trust.

    The new British Standard Tampon will shortly be unveiled by the NHS, and we are seeking personnel for delivery of our local and regional Tampon Fitting Service.

    In keeping with our no discrimination employment regulations, potential staff of any religion, ethnic background, or gender, or no gender may apply.

    No previous experience in tampon fitting is necessary as training will be given.

  • APL

    “It isn’t hard to see why sanitary products are often out of reach.”

    Snigger.

  • AlexB

    Why not just use reusable pads? It’s not like they don’t exists.

    There is a scheme currently in East Africa trying to help girls stay in school by giving them sanitary products, as many drop out once they hit that stage of puberty. A non-profit employs Kenyans in poor areas to make the pads (jobs, unlike the charity sending the supplies to Kenya), and they are usable for a year or so. That is an area where they might have “period poverty”, and someone is working out a solution that doesn’t involve government (I think). It’s doable.

    The article also goes on to hygiene products in general:

    There is something glaringly symbolic about this. Sweat stains. Dirty hair. Blood on your underwear. It’s literally marking certain people out, with poverty seeping into their skin.

    Good god, how do they think people dealt with this stuff before modern hygiene products? There are ways around things. It might take more time and effort, but I bet I could keep myself and my clothes clean and presentable very cheaply. Granted, those truly in need aren’t going to manage much, but there are plenty of people out there who say they can’t afford it but could if they just cut out on getting the next phone. Heck, the next comic book even.

  • Fraser Orr

    @AlexB
    Interesting point… with the caveat I mentioned above that men are not allowed an opinion on periods (though colons apparently are ok, right Julie?) But it is a common theme in economics where goods of convenience are not affordable to the poor that they substitute labor for that good. If you can’t afford a car you walk or take public transportation, if you can’t afford to go to a restaurant you cook your own food, if you can’t afford a snowblower you use a shovel.

    I don’t know how practical that is for menstrual hygiene. In fact I feel like I have already ventured into a swampy land from which I will be lucky to extricate myself with my life….

  • PapayaSF

    Before “feminine hygiene products,” women used rags. Hence the expression “on the rag.”

  • As a matter of fact although most of the stories I have read on this subject, including the BBC link from Ryan’s article, have headlines that talk as if the problem is period poverty, when I read the stories below the headlines, the real problem far more often seems to be period ignorance or period embarrassment. But the steps needed to help women and girls with these issues do not generate column inches for journalists, photo opportunities for politicians, or outrage for activists.

    As regards ’embarrassment’, if the ‘steps’ would require discriminating between cultures, they would be far more demotivating to activists than just denying them their beloved ‘outrage’; the activists would be far too embarrassed to talk about it themselves. (I assume this is part of what Natalie had in mind.)

    As regards ‘ignorance’, the same point applies, but there is also the following.

    – A friend in a doctor’s waiting room overheard another woman say she was there in connection with her fifth pregnancy “but now I know how it happens, it won’t be happening again.” The well-mannered friend (just!) managed to avoid bursting out laughing at the overheard remark. I told this to my sister, a high-powered NHS consultant in that field, and she replied, “Trust me, Niall, on the four previous occasions, that woman spent time surrounded by nurses and doctors desperately trying to explain to her, in the simplest possible terms, how it happened and how she could avoid it happening again.”

    – My sister then repaid my anecdote with one of hers: she was counselling a young woman on a medical matter and needed to know about her sexual activity. “Have you made love recently?” got a blank look, so my sister gradually worked her way down (socially) through the various ways of putting it. Eventually she reached, “Have you been f***ed recently?” “Oh”, said the woman, a light bulb visibly finally dawning in her brain. “Oh, yeah!”

    “Against ignorance, the gods themselves contend in vain.” And socialist bureaucracies do much worse than that.

  • Laird

    “(though colons apparently are ok, right Julie?)”

    I have a colonoscopy every 5 years or so. I think that entitles me to an opinion on colons!

    “Against ignorance, the gods themselves contend in vain.” True enough, Niall. But sometimes you can’t blame simple ignorance (which is curable); you have to go all the way to outright stupidity (which is not). I’m no fan of Oliver Wendell Holmes, but sometimes I think he might have been right.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah! An expert on colons! Now, who will weigh in on, er, hyphens?

    (Mrs. Badger-Butts, who was so pleased with having gotten his hyphen, is no longer available at archive.org. :>(( )

    . . .

    I was badgered by the GP last spring about the possible unhealthy state of my colon. Definitely s/have a colonoscopy and an endoscopy! Now, I’ll never see 70 again, and it seems to me that mostly they quit bothering us older souls over the procedure. There’s also the fact that at this point I’d think twice about even necessary invasions, whether exploratory or therapeutic. “Not gonna happen,” sez I to the gastroenterologist’s nurse-practitioner.

    “Well, then at least do a DNA stool test to find out if you need the c-scopy.” Me, in a coolly investigative manner: “What is that exactly?” Meaning, how does it differ from the Plain Chevy variety.

    No answer.

    “Well, what percentage of the people who take this test gete a result indicating they s/have a -scopy?”

    Question clearly not understood. Much back-&-forth trying to get it understood. Finally: “Mmmm … I really don’t know. But you should definitely at least take this test.”

    Oh. “Well — what percentage of people who do the test and do have the -scopy turn out to have cancer, or pre-cancerous polyps?”

    Ah!: “About 4%.”

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    “You are saying I need this test that provides 96% false positives???!!! What, you think I’m nuts?” 😆 😆 😆

    Told this amazing story to my pulmonologist. The good Doc: “A colonoscopy would probably kill you, in your particular state of un-great health.”

    Post-scriptum: So I had yet another regular one. The fifth within a period of around four months, all of which came back negative for blood in GI tract, or anything else suspicious. Further bloodwork also shows normal kidney, liver, etc. functioning. It seems I won’t clock out due to GI problems anytime soon.
    . . .

    As long as we’re on the subject of plumbing, one of the nurses at the nursing home gave me this recipe for the Atomic Bomb Blast, which is easy, gentle, and so far works like a charm, within say 6-36 hours depending on the degree of clog:

    : Warm 2 Tblsp. of prune juice. (Experience: not terribly hot. Just nicely cozy.)
    : Stir in 2 Tblsp. milk of magnesia.

    : Drink. Not as good as a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream, but not totally undrinkable either.

    –On returning home, I hunted around and the remedy seems to be all over the cyberstacks.

    Signed,
    Dr. J. [Not the basketball one.]

  • PapayaSF

    “but now I know how it happens, it won’t be happening again.”

    The movie Idiocracy was prophetic.

  • bobby b

    Julie, it may all seem a bother, but replacing a colon with a semicolon because it’s easier is never the right answer.

  • Laird

    bobby b, I have never noticed any appreciable difference in the degree of difficulty between using a colon versus a semicolon. One does need to press the shift key, but that hand isn’t usually doing anything else at the moment anyway.

  • Alisa

    but that hand isn’t usually doing anything else at the moment anyway

    What do you mean? It is holding a hot dog as I type this.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mmmm, “it’s easier”? I don’t know about that, bobby. Occasionally one runs a little short on time as it is, and with only a semicolon, I imagine it would be worse.

  • bobby b

    That’s why it’s never the right answer. Jeez. 😆

  • Julie near Chicago

    Agreed! 😆

  • Rob

    The Guardian wants state funding, so let’s have a payroll tax levied on working women so the wealthier ones can help out their less fortunate sisters. This shouldn’t be too difficult to implement.

  • Slartibartfarst

    That Guardian article is just moronic, that’s all. Quite frankly, I can’t think why anyone should waste their cognitive surplus on discussing it. It’s arguably about a non-issue.

    The real issue here is more probably that the majority of people on limited incomes are likely to be poorly-educated and unaware of how to properly take care of themselves and/or live economically. Of course, the same probably goes for many/most of the people on higher incomes, but they probably don’t feel the pinch and don’t realise how much money they are throwing away. They are “good” consumers and tend to leave a large environmental footprint.

    As a general rule, it is inadvisable and it is throwing money away and wasteful to buy expensive tampons and sanitary pads, toilet rolls, kitchen rolls and tissues, etc., because it all – quite literally – goes down the drain, or goes to waste. My training in accountancy and economics leads me to a good sense of the concept of “value”, and I generally advocate a minimalist approach, consuming only what is really needed and available at minimal cost, and spending as little as possible on the production and effective removal of waste products, as a matter of principle. That probably makes me one of the world’s worst consumers, with a minimal footprint.

  • The real issue here is more probably that the majority of people on limited incomes are likely to be poorly-educated and unaware of how to properly take care of themselves and/or live economically (Slartibartfarst, October 12, 2017 at 7:10 am)

    The left certainly like to think that about the poor – indeed about everyone but themselves – but people usually make better decisions for themselves than are made for them by any bureaucrat, the converse being sufficiently rare that a claim of it in a given case should always be made to face a high standard of proof.

    I need hardly add to this audience that bureaucrats produced by our current education system are likely to be poorly-educated in reality, whatever their paper qualifications, and while they might be very aware of how to take care of themselves, when they try to take care of others or administer anything economically, they will be good only at being unaware of failure. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago

    “I need hardly add to this audience that bureaucrats produced by our current education system are likely to be poorly-educated in reality, whatever their paper qualifications….”

    Boy, Niall, I wish I had the link. Not just the output of our education systems: I read recently that some study of American English-teachers (I think grade-school and high-school English) showed a fair percentage of them as testing worse in English than the students. (Purposely somewhat vague, in the hope of avoiding inaccuracy.)

    Personally, I can well believe it. 👿

    On the other hand, the Feminists of today claim that 20% – 25% of women are raped while in college. This figure is strongly disputed by more-rational sorts like Christina Hoff Summers, etc. For instance, see the short clip at

    you*,*tube .com/watch?v=3TR_YuDFIFI ,

    from 2:45 to 3:45.