Whether it's throbbing cramps, a heavy, Willy Wonka's waterfall-style flow, or the club classic that is bleeding through your nice new skirt, getting your period at work is never a LOL.
This is why Alice Bartlett, a 27-year-old web developer from London, set up Tampon Club, which encourages women to provide each other with a communal stash of tampons and sanny pads in their office bogs.
Sanitary ware has become pretty political. There's been a growing outcry against the fact that tampons are taxed as "luxury" items (womankind has not yet reached an advanced state of being to stop the whole primal, monthly womb-shedding thing at the wave of a blue), praise for the Indian man who found a cheap, effective way for women to DIY and the fact that companies now seem to be perfuming their tampons. So now it's like you've walked through the corridors of your vagina spraying a bottle of Febreze, which is nice.
Anyway, there's nothing quite like the realisation that you've just "come on" (does anyone other than 15-year-old girls actually use that phrase anymore?) unexpectedly, squirming on top of a pile of loo roll and wondering when you can waddle down the road like some kind of demented penguin to buy a box of Tampax. Here's why Alice – an altruistic goddess of compressed cotton wool and ultra wings – wants to make sure you're never caught out again.
VICE: Hi Alice. What inspired you to be such a benevolent "feminine hygiene" dispenser?
Alice Bartlett: I work in a big office that doesn't provide sanitary products in the toilets except for those machines that only take exact change. For about the first five months of working there I would frequently get to the toilet, realise I needed a tampon, and have to go back to my desk to get one or go buy some. Sometimes I'd be too busy to go back to my desk and just have to feel uncomfortable or use a toilet paper stop-gap until I had an opportunity to get back to my desk and then back to the toilet. I was thinking how undignified it was, and how much better it would be if I could legitimately keep my tampons in the toilets, when I realised that a communal tampon stash would solve the problem for me and any other disorganised slobs in the office.
Was there a specific experience that made you think it was important?
As a teenager I remember my mum doing battle with her employer to get them to put tampons in the women's toilets – a mission that was met with much bafflement by her (male) seniors and was ultimately unsuccessful.
Well, we are talking about a luxury product here, Alice. Do you think periods are still shrouded with a weird, prudish stigma?
Yes. I think there are two reasons: they're messy, and men don't have them.
Do you think men and male managers need to be informed about the importance of readily available sanitary products?
I think all managers need to be educated on this. It's not just the men. A lot of companies do provide free tampons and sanitary towels – Google, Twitter, Facebook and Etsy all have them. These companies are also all less than 20 years old, which I think might be why they're ahead of the curve on this. I think a lot of men who are in the position to affect change in their organisations, to provide tampons free of charge to employees, simply haven't thought of it or can't be bothered to make it happen.
Don't you think it's foul that women are charged £1 for, like, two Tampax from those bathroom dispensers?
I really, really hate those bathroom dispensers. They take advantage of women that have no other choice, and they only take exact change, which means you need precisely two 20 pence pieces to get your tampons. Then you have to go ask someone, "Hey do you have 40p in exactly two twenty pence coins?" Ridiculous.
What do you think about VAT being charged on sanitary products? It's 2014. We're quite beyond the days of swaddling our gussets in cloths and hoping for the best.
Tax on sanitary products is currently 5 percent, but incontinence products are currently taxed at 0 percent. This leads to an odd quirk whereby you can buy practically the same product (a sanitary towel or an incontinence pad), but, if it's for bleeding on instead of peeing on, it's going to cost you 5 percent more! I would like to see the tax rate dropped to 0 percent for sanitary products.
What's the ultimate end goal of your project? Ideally this would be something done in every workplace across the country
Aside from me not having to carry tampons around with me at work anymore, it'll just be that tampons are available to women when they need them. I've tried to be straightforward and honest in the "branding", too – No twee design, no school-girl naughty-naughty euphemisms, just plain English. It's a basic human need.
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