Despite my best intentions and concerted efforts at maintaining naivety, when it comes to the delicate matter of periods and tampons I am, through no desire of my own, very much a modern man. For example, I know that upon getting into a relationship one should download a tracker app, make discrete or not so discrete enquires, and then on a monthly(ish) basis supply flowers / chocolate / hot water bottle / sympathy as required. This knowledge was forced into my head by friends and sisters I should probably take the opportunity to thank right now and apologise for my reluctance to listen.
Still, it is with some surprise that I find myself writing on such a topic as a tampon tax. Then again, as an economist, tax has always held a fascination for me. In particular, the most remarkable aspect of the whole tampon tax debate is the extent of the anger it generates.
A little bit of maths is in order here. All following figures are estimations gained from use of the internet. Hopefully they are still accurate. It was surprisingly hard to get concrete figures.
It is generally considered that the tampon tax, at 5%, costs a woman anywhere from £0.98 to £6.00 a year (depending on the brand bought). The other day, I heard someone on TV said that women were not able to afford food because of the tampon tax. Now, if by food what was meant was 1 to 1.5 Sainsbury Meal Deals a year, then this fact might be considered correct. As a general observation, this is a tiny amount of money even for the poorest of society.
In the grand scheme of taxes, unfairness and injustice this is a tiny blip on the measure of financial impact. Assuming 40 years of having to buy tampons it suggests a total lifetime cost of £240, which is almost nothing. For the UK government it brings in a fractional £15 million per year. Although this leads to a very interesting question – given how the tight the government budget is, would you rather claw back £6 a year or have that £15 million alleviate the tax credit cuts?
The other immediate question that springs to mind is: does saving £6 a year outweigh the pleasure of fighting this injustice? What I mean by that is that righteous anger is really quite enjoyable. Slamming George Osborne / the Tories / Men on Facebook, signing petitions, feeling one with your fellow woman / man in this campaign, it all adds up to a lot of enjoyment.
It’s like the whole independence thing with Scotland. The pleasure of being a Nationalist is in the fact that it allows you to fight the injustice of the English (or George Osborne / the Tories) who are “ruling” over Scotland. Protesting this carries a certain moral pleasure, it’s a social activity after all and it makes you feel better about yourself. If Scotland were to become independent this great pleasure would be lost, a fact lost on the nationalists.
The joy is in the fight, in sticking it to the man, in shouting out an injustice which is basically a fantasy. For in both cases, the protesting on social media seems more for the joy of having something certain to protest about than the actual cause itself. I’d happily put my hand up and say that there are a large number of unfair things in life I love to complain about more than I’d want them to go away. I used to love moaning about car insurance for men being higher than it was for women. I felt cheated when it was equalised.
To be blunt: an injustice that costs a mere £6 a year cannot be considered of any importance when weighed in the balance of human suffering. Similarly with Scottish Nationalism, an “injustice” that benefits Scotland and has led to 300 years of peace and prosperity cannot be considered of any note. With both issues, ideologically fuelled fantasy has created a greater sense of anger and injustice than the facts allow for.
The argument might immediately come back that it’s about the “principle” of the thing. Men, in their women oppressing ways, have taxed tampons (at 5%) and not other male products (like razor blades). Surely, the reasoning goes, there is a patriarchal conspiracy here. In the words of the wise woman: “Always assume ignorance and incompetence over conspiracy.” The absolute worst that can be said about men because of the tampon tax is that we weren’t very thoughtful.
And now, already, we’ve moved the debate away from some kind of magnificent injustice against women everywhere and instead we are in the shallow and murky waters of a tax which lacks a certain empathy but is otherwise entirely featureless. If we are all going to complain about a hygiene product that is taxed, let’s complain about toilet roll, but of course, that affects both sexes equally so can't be the poster child for an ideological movement.
The tampon tax, like a lot of protests these days, isn't about the tampon tax at all. It's about the constant need to be fighting, the constant need to be progressing and to be seen to be progressing, it's about being caught up with the tiny annoyances of life and ignoring much greater issues, it's about ideological fantasy than reality.
And its so easily done. Trust me, I'm a Christian, I know full well that in the heat of the moment, any issue that seems to further the great cause of Christianity can seem like a legitimate protest to make. But the reality is that there's a number of fights that aren't worth it and a number of battles that do not need to be fought. Our ideologies, however good and noble and right and true, can blind us to the path of wisdom.
For £6 a year is the removing of the Tampon Tax worth it? If you view a society’s ability to champion causes as finite, if you view the political agenda as finite, then the answer is most definitely no. Let’s get a media frenzy over sex trafficking or gender specific abortion or the pay gap between men and women over 30, or any number of actual proper injustices which are worthwhile to shout and protest about.
Scotland has derailed its political agenda with the entirely make believe injustice of being stuck in peaceful co-existence with a neighbouring country that shares a common culture, heritage, currency, monarchy, and after 300 years, a lot of blood too. It would be poor going, if the fight for women’s rights was likewise derailed with a cul-de-sac of an issue that is barely worth the words written about it.