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Artillery Row

The moral poverty of the “Period Poverty Act”

Politicians should do better — period

Earlier this week, the Scottish government — always at the bleeding edge of woke — enacted legislation to provide free sanitary protection as part of the Period Poverty Act (2021). In a statement, which artfully avoided acknowledging that it is only females who menstruate, Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said provision of free period products is “fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them”. 

But women who can’t spare a few pounds each month for sanitary towels do not experience “period poverty” — they are living in actual poverty (of the less trendy type). As noted by critics on Twitter, packaging the economic struggles of those at the bottom of the heap as “fuel poverty”, “furniture poverty” and “period poverty” obscures a bigger problem. It’s a discreet and manageable way of veiling the gory truth.

We are not consigned to menstruation huts

At best the new law is a cheap win — a way to deflect from accusations that the current administration has not only dismantled women-only services, but the very definition of “woman”. At worst, it represents the curious creep of government and corporations into women’s pants. 

It is easier to peer into women’s bodies than the actions of men. More intractable problems — such as the fact that of 2,342 reports of rape and attempted rape in Scotland last year, a mere 5.5 per cent resulted in a conviction — remain a stubborn social stain. With a budget of £27 million, the period poverty project is an obvious exercise in “femwash” — an attempt to appear female friendly which allows politicians to swerve the pitfalls of fleshier feminist campaigns, where the blame is pointed at men. Men can’t be blamed for the excruciating cramps, aching breasts or bouts of despair that many women experience on a monthly basis. Quite simply, it is not their fault. As if to underline the point that tackling period poverty is a man-inclusive feminist issue, the first period dignity officer to be appointed is male. 

As with campaigns to decriminalise the sex industry, the stated rationale for tackling period poverty is to “reduce stigma”. For the overwhelming majority of women fortunate enough to live in the secular West, having a period is understood as a normal bodily function, however. We are not forbidden from touching food nor consigned to menstruation huts. When fifty years ago Germaine Greer advised, “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood”, she was being shocking. Today, whilst few might take her up on the offer, the weight of religious and cultural taboo has lessened.

Where the Scottish government sees “stigma”, others might perceive privacy and personal boundaries. Not wanting one’s menstrual blood splashed across the news doesn’t necessarily indicate shame. Similar plans to promote “period dignity” are currently being unwrapped in Wales.

The state has no right to know about our bodily functions

It isn’t just England’s Celtic cousins who are busily dusting off their speculums — across the world, policies and even laws are being changed to accommodate everything from period to menopause leave. Whilst to some this a welcome effort to make workplaces more accommodating, others fear it could roll back decades of efforts to promote equality. The impact of testosterone on men is still broadly seen as a benefit to workplaces, despite the irrational behaviour it can lead to. Yet it is women’s bodies which are once again marked out as defective — this time in need of support rather than censorship. When we are on the brink of appointing our third female prime minister of menopausal age, how helpful is it to raise awareness that during menopause some women struggle with brain fog? 

Broadly speaking, the state has no right to know about our bodily functions. It certainly ought to stay out of our pants. The Scottish Government’s prurient focus on women’s bodies and breaking down boundaries is an unsettling attempt to legislate where currently women’s understanding of other women suffices. A dark reading could see this as law penetrating sorority — an attempt to make women’s bodies public property.

Just as rainbows have become a symbol to show that someone is progressive, public conversations around women’s biology have become a social signal of woke credentials. It is no accident that this is being promoted by a government hellbent on divorcing the reality of being a woman from female biology. Subjected to scrutiny and yet denied an existence, today we are left with simply men and menstruators. Ultimately, the current obsession with women’s biology is tampon-shaped virtue-signalling, and no one needs a period dignity officer to tell the Scottish government where they can bloody well stick it.

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