It started out as a jokey Facebook thread by comedian Cariad Lloyd. “Imagine if female comics remade Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood video – we’d have to do it as a bunch of period jokes…”
I’m friends with Cariad, and I gleefully watched this thread expand, one of those joyous pile-ons of women who hardly know each other, all chucking in alternative names for the gals in Tay Tay’s star-stuffed promo.
Instead of Cara Delevingne’s “Mother Chucker”, Lena Dunham’s “Lucki Fiori” and Cindy Crawford’s “Headmistress”, we pitched period puns – “Heavy Flo” “Madame Ovary” “Oestro Jen”. (My contribution – “Get the host of the News Quiz to cameo – “Toksvig Shock!”” Thank you, thank you).
“I didn’t think I’d actually make it,” Cariad told me, “But something about the idea wouldn’t go away.” It wasn’t just a giggle at a taboo subject. Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood was (allegedly) about her feud with Katy Perry – who stole her backing dancers or something. Why not remake it about something serious?
The hilarious video, made with Jenny Bede and 25 female comics, highlights the fact that in the UK, periods are still considered a luxury. Well, sanitary protection is, anyway. Women are paying VAT on tampons, towels, and yup, Mooncups at five per cent.
Most of us probably aren’t even aware of it – and if we are, we don’t really have time to care. What’s 5 per cent on a £2.75 packet of Tampax Pearl? But when you start doing the maths, across a whole lifetime, from teenager to menopause, holy crap, that’s a lot of money, right?
What is and isn’t VAT-exempt is a mind-scramble. You probably know the thing about Jaffa Cakes – officially, they are a cake, not a biscuit (which have VAT on them). McVities proved it to HMRC by making a giant Jaffa Cake cake (mmm). Magazines (not to mention edible flowers, “fully set alcoholic jellies”, crocodile meat, and bingo) are considered “essentials”. Your vagina not being the mortal enemy of white sofas, five days a month, for most of your adult life – that’s a treaty bauble. (If you’re still unsure if a tampon is a luxury item, consider if anyone has ever gone on Desert Island Discs and asked for “a massive box of Lillets”.)
The issue of VAT is complicated – pre-election, David Cameron said he’d “like” to change the status of sanitary products, but his hands are tied by the EU. And we’d all be forgiven for thinking, well, there’s bigger fish to fry in this country. In the age of Starbucks and Gary Barlow, no one wants to be a tax dodger, right?
But we have the luxury (that word again) of feeling like that. What if you’re homeless? As highlighted by the recent #thehomelessperiod campaign, women on the streets have little access to tampons, and are forced to shoplift or improvise towels from literally rubbish. The lack of dignity, not to mention risk of infection, is unimaginable to most of us.
And let’s be honest why we’re really so coy about the subject – it’s because it’s about, you know, women’s things. We’re not supposed to talk about them these days. There’s that cliché – “Female comedians, always going on about periods”. (The reality is, comedy clubs are full of men talking about their girlfriends being “on the blob”. Oh, they like chocolate, do they? Amazing.)
“Why should we be ashamed to talk about periods?” Says Cariad. “It’s being quiet about this stuff that gets us in this ridiculous tax situation. They’re relying on women not to make a fuss.” It’s enough to make your blood boil…
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