Tavi Gevinson once told us, “just be Stevie Nicks,” – a piece of advice that I’ve often thought about, and probably always will. Stevie Nicks once said something that really stuck with me, when she wrote:
“The world teaches [girls] that the way you exist in it is disgusting — you watch boys cringe backward in your dorm room when you talk about your period, blue water pretending to be blood in a maxi pad commercial. It is little things, and it is constant…the reality of your life is impolite to talk about.”
Talking about menstruation and the hardships it inherently brings isn’t an easy thing to approach – such a conversation has been conditionally suppressed in the same way women strive to conceal their monthly ordeal: tampons stuffed at the bottom of handbags, used pads immediately trashed in sterile bins, products being laden with artificial smells in attempt to hide natural ones.
As we wrote yesterday, there are so many things that suck (and naturally don’t suck) about having a period; the taxing of sanitary items in Australia, however, has particularly struck a chord. Australian women currently cop an extra 10% on sanitary products, and have been since 2000.
With Joe Hockey’s tax review looming, University of Sydney student Subeta Vimalarajah launched an online petition titled ‘Stop Taxing My Period’ on Community Run this week. When we saw the petition yesterday, it’d clocked about 2000 signatures. At the time of writing, that number is a staggering 24,255 – and growing.
With such a worthy issue gaining traction so quickly, Pedestrian spoke with Subeta to discuss the tax review—and why pads and tampons need to be reconsidered within it—further.
Why is this issue so important to all Australians—not just those who menstruate—today?
I think it’s an unfair tax on half the population – and personally, it’s not something that I’ve felt financially, but there are definitely people out there who would tangibly feel the effect of an extra 10%. And I think the reason that it is so unsettling, and in a sense upsetting, is that it’s not something people have control over. It is an essential health good. People have said “you’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” but when you look at what’s under that health banner, it seems that sanitary products not being there is a bit of an oversight, really.
Why do you think the issue is gaining so much traction and support right now?
Personally, I think the difference is that this is a really targeted campaign – unlike before, where the hasn’t actually been a tax review. Joe Hockey has actually come out and said he wants to have a fairer tax system for Australians. Given Joe Hockey has said he wants to hear what people think, it’s a really unique opportunity to give feedback on this specific issue. And I think it’s going to be a lot harder for him to ignore it. If he decides he wants to keep it taxed, he’s going to have to give us a response, especially considering the number of submissions to the tax review – when there were about 3000 signatures of the petition, there was about 500 submissions to the review.
What would your response be to people who disagree with the issue who are saying things like, “I’m thirsty, I want free water”?
I guess it’s not targeting the specific issue here – the question here is, “Is this an essential health item?” And a really good example is that incontinence pads are on the GST exempt list. It’s actually a really narrow issue – “what’s under the health banner, and should sanitary products be included?”, basically.
What are some other ways Pedestrian readers can engage with the issue?
I think it’s good to centralise and channel energy through one arena, which is why the first thing I tell people is to sign the petition and do the tax review, because I’m going to be taking the petition to Joe Hockey myself – so the more signatures I can get, the better.
So you’re going to rock up to Hockey’s office?
Yeah, because I feel that in a really beautiful way, almost that I don’t deserve, people who have signed this petition have put faith in me to represent this issue – and I don’t want the effort to go unseen. Everyone who has sent me a response to the petition or shown the support, it’s an amazing way which the community has come together, and even if Joe Hockey doesn’t get the tax submissions, for everyone who signed the petition and felt like this was wrong – I don’t want their voices to be ignored.
Do you think some people have been deterred by the cause because it’s ostensibly backed by feminism? Do some people get put off by that F word?
There’s really differing definitions of what a feminist is, or what it entails to be a feminist – but I think it’s really easy to look at this issue outside of that framework. I think there’s people who might step back from the term ‘feminist’ but who would still think there was a fair change to be made with this.
Yeah – because so many feminist causes are naturally about equality, about filling a “gap” – but there isn’t really a gap here, there’s nothing to compare with how men are being treated, really.
Exactly. And I think compared to other campaigns I’ve worked on, there is a character of difference with this one for that reason. And I want people to think about this issue without attaching it to any agenda or any political party, or whatever.
Some people might even feel kind of excluded from the reality of the issue, or play the ‘grossed out’ excuse?
Yeah, so I think the other thing about it that’s great is that people who otherwise might feel uncomfortable about periods have come up to me to show their support for the cause. I think that in itself is opening up the discomfort around elements of reproductive health. Which may be one of the underlying reasons for this tax existing – I think discomfort on the issue has been enough in the past to not see between what is fair and what isn’t.
Why do you think people have connected so strongly to the cause?
I think the cause is just so reasonable. There doesn’t even need to be that much explaining for people to see why it’s unfair. I haven’t even had to do that much promotion – I just used my own networks and linked the petition. And also I do think the tax review is a great initiative – it’s awesome that we have the opportunity to communicate directly through the submissions.
I totally agree – and some people are taking this as a really political thing, but it sort of feels wrong to vilify Hockey right now, because he hasn’t commented on it yet, the review hasn’t been looked over.
The thing is, the tax has existed through bipartisan governments. The reason I’m addressing the petition to Joe Hockey isn’t like a, “you suck, Hockey!” kind of thing, it’s just because the tax review is with him.
Yeah, it seems like a political issue on the surface but it’s actually kind of not – it’s just something that’s gone on for fifteen years too long, and something needs to be done.
I think it’s almost become a bit of an oversight? As in, it happened initially, and there was debate about it initially, it’s just nobody’s taken that extra step to remove it. And I’m hoping because we have a specific goal and a lot of energy, that this might be that moment. It’s not going to go away – even if this is a failed attempt, there’ll be so many more people fighting for this in the future.
So where to from here?
Just keep the momentum going. It’s been amazing to see this many signatures in such a short amount of time, but I’m very wary of it starting to plateau very soon – so keep sharing and keep liking and keep talking to your friends about it, because that’s the way we can reach as many people as we can. Even if we’ve reached 22,000 people now, we’re talking about something that affects 10 million people. More than anything I don’t want this to be seen as a “uni student” issue, because it’s so much bigger than that. And compared to a lot of other campaigns, you wouldn’t think of sending it on to your mum or your aunty, but this is the kind of campaign where you can do that.
You can sign Subeta’s petition here.