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How One Tampon Mention on Twitter Started a Bloody War

A writer's research on access to feminine hygiene products in third-world countries unleashes a shocking slew of misogyny

tampon twitter rage storyWant to start a Twitter backlash? Ask about tampons. Specifically, make the seemingly banal query as to whether or not there are any countries in the world that subsidize the purchase of the all-too-necessary cotton corkers. That’s what Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti did recently, tweeting: “Twitter friends: Anyone know a country where tampons are free or somehow subsidized?” In response, she was steamrolled by irate Tweeters of both sexes. The columnist went to the trouble to Storify some of the over-the-top responses.

Here are a few memorable replies from her Twitter “friends.”

@TheRealBepo Yeah, North Korea. You should move there.

@WatchDougals Yeah, it’s called the Middle East where they sew your vagina shut for being a loud mouth

@adam_mcphee I think she meant where they sell them oversized, for her giant gaping vagina.

OK, anger noted. But does anybody know the actual answer to the question?

More importantly, what’s all the anger really about? Valenti’s query can’t really be that infuriating, which has some interpreting the reactionary bile as straight-up misogyny—a cultural phenomenon that’s well past its best-before date, and which should really be the target of tweeters’ contempt (as opposed to, say, the notion of free tampons).

The case for the rage being misogynistic, conscious or not, kind of makes itself when you’re reading comments that reference a female writer’s “gaping vagina,” that tell her maybe “U need 2 stick a few fingers in UR you-know-what to stem the bleeding,” or that urge her to “get married. Then your husband can pay for it. As long as your [sic] putting out…” It’s hard to imagine Nicholas Kristof getting the same kind of response for tweeting a similar request.

Valenti wasn’t deterred, however. She subsequently wrote a column advocating for free tampons for all, and here’s hoping a few of the Tweeter-happy responders took the time to consider the merits of her argument before they wished her off to North Korea.

Valenti makes the case that “menstrual care is health care.” Increasing access to feminine hygiene products isn’t just a spoiled Westerner’s attempt to get something for nothing, as the angry tweeters seemed to suggest, but is in fact an important public health issue globally.

As Valenti points out, getting your period in a third-world country, or in a culture that stigmatizes menstruation, represents a significant challenge for girls and young women. “In countries where sanitary products are inaccessible or unaffordable, menstruation can mean missed school for girls (UNICEF estimates 10% of African girls don’t attend school during their periods) and an increased dropout rate, missed work for women and repeated vaginal infections because of unsanitary menstrual products,” she explains.

Lost wages, an incomplete education, and needless infection—whether or not you agree with the notion that making hygiene products freely available to girls and women is important, it’s unwise and inhumane not to consider the consequences of failing to do so.

But then again so is answering a friendly query with misogynistic vitriol.