Friday, October 10, 2014

Women do not have a right to free shit

We’ve known for awhile that Jessica Valenti – prominent writer and founder of Feministing.com – thinks it is her right to be provided with free abortions on demand. Earlier this year, we learned she also believes she’s entitled to free birth control, views anyone who doesn’t agree to be a misogynist, and considers a safe-sex fuck-in to be a reasonable way to protest companies which decline to provide her with it.

So few were surprised this summer when the award-winning columnist for The Guardian and The Nation decided she wants taxpayers to pay for her tampons, too. After all, when you’re the sort of feminist whose interpretation of equality between men and women is essentially “whatever is best for women”, forcing men to split the collective bill for products they’re guaranteed to never require seems like a pretty sweet deal.

Although her byline on The Nation declares she writes about “Feminism, sexuality and social justice. With a sense of humor,” Valenti clearly does that last bit best. Jessica’s work is an endless parody of her movement’s excesses, one which is as wince-inducing as it is unintentional. This last article may have taken the cake, however, so I’ve decided to humor her humor with some modest proposals of my own.

  • Men grow more facial hair than women do. This unavoidable fact of nature means that in order to comply with pervasive social customs, work standards and hygiene concerns, most men are required to shave their facial hair every morning. Over the course of their lifetimes, this simple genetic difference requires the average man to spend many hours and thousands of dollars more on razors, shaving cream and aftershave than their female counterparts – as a simple consequence of the fact that they were born with a y-chromosome! This biological difference imposes an unjust economic burden on men. Seriously: why aren’t shaving materials free?
  • Men burn more energy in homeostasis than women do. This unavoidable fact of nature means men generally require more calories per day than women among people who live equally active lifestyles. The additional food must be purchased and prepared, which requires men to expend more time and/or money to satiate their natural appetite. Thus, this biological difference imposes an unjust economic burden on men. Seriously: why aren’t men subsidized for the marginal difference in calories they must consume each day?
  • Men get erections, and women don’t. Often these erections are unpredictable and uncontrollable, especially in pubescent boys. This unavoidable fact of nature means that boys must be careful not to wear sweatpants or athletic shorts on days they expect to stand and speak in a public setting such as a classroom or auditorium. But alas, some families are too poor to afford denim clothing for their children; the price of jeans is simply too much! These children are forced to adopt risky strategies – such as discreetly “prairie dogging it” in the waistband of their trousers – to avoid any humiliating bulge in the presence of their peers. The physical pain and traumatic psychological toll such maneuvers create at such a tender and insecure age is difficult to fathom. Clearly, this biological difference imposes unjust stigma and hardship on men, which we social-justice-pioneers have an obligation to alleviate. Seriously: why aren’t jeans free?


Admittedly, that last one was very silly – but no more so than Valenti using an anecdote about her first period to argue that tampons must be free because some families cannot be afford to buy their children new underwear!

Of course, it would racist and ableist and fattist and whatever-the-fuck-else-ist to limit this logic to discussions of men and women, ignoring all the hardships which arise from people’s many other biological differences. In the spirit of intersectionality, let’s expand Valenti’s logic to other demographics, shall we?
  • On account of the additional melanin in their skin, “[p]eople of African descent can have a natural sun protection factor (SPF) of up to 13 as compared to 3-4 for Whites.” This means that white people get sunburn and skin cancer at far higher rates than darker skinned people. This unavoidable fact of nature means that over the course of our lifetimes, the average white person must spend hundreds of dollars more on sunblock than non-whites – an unjust economic burden induced solely because of their biological differences. If we want real equality, sunblock must be free for everyone; after all, it is a health issue!
  • Fat people are more likely to encounter a whole host of health problems and awkward situations than are trim or athletic people. This decreases their quality of life and life expectancy in all sorts of unfair ways. Over the course of their lifetime, the average fat person will spend thousands of dollars more on healthcare than the average thin person. In addition, very fat people cannot even be seated comfortably in the average restaurant, movie theater, or airplane. This physical difference imposes an unjust emotional and economic burden on fat people. Therefore, if we want real equality, healthcare should be free for all, hospitals and businesses should be forced to accommodate excessively fat people free of charge, and fat people are justified in raising hell whenever a business is unable to accommodate those demands. Oh wait, those are things many progressives actually believe


Joking aside, there is a broader commentary to be made here than “Jessica Valenti is once again wrong,” so I will (begrudgingly) credit some of her arguments with rebuttal.

Firstly, her piece illuminates a major problem with the concept of universal healthcare: defining which kinds of care people are supposedly entitled to. Those who claim healthcare is a universal human right usually envision desperate patients with life threatening illnesses lying in hospital beds, and use their heartfelt sympathy for the plight of such people as the moral justification for the alleged “right” to treatment. Admittedly, there does seem to be vast emotional support for the idea that such people should be cured by one means or another. But this consensus quickly evaporates when the parameters of the word healthcare are broadened. I touched on this problem in an earlier post about providing sex change operations to inmates:

“If ‘adequate’ healthcare includes sex change operations, where is the limit on what prisoners are entitled to at taxpayer expense? Do we have to pay for preventive care? What about daily multivitamins to ensure they get enough calcium and don’t develop osteoporosis? Must we provide dental floss and Listerine and foot powder and sunblock and condoms and chapstick and Vaseline and Tylenol? These things are “healthcare” in that they can potentially improve one’s health or alleviate irritating bodily symptoms, but they’re still inaccessible luxuries to most of the world’s inhabitants.

Valenti’s entire case is based on the idea that routine hygiene products are included in that sort of healthcare which progressives think should be free. She writes:

“for young women worldwide, getting your period means new expenses, days away from school and risking regular infections. All because too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue.”

She omits that just because something is related to a health issue does not mean there is any moral obligation to provide it free of charge, even among those who generally support the idea that healthcare is a right in the first place.

Next, Valenti attaches two independent and unrelated assertions with a hyphen, in the hopes that readers will be beguiled into thinking the second follows from the former:

“We need to move beyond the stigma of “that time of the month” – women’s feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time.”

Perhaps there is a stigma around menstruation, and perhaps we should move beyond it, but it does not follow that feminine hygiene products should be free for all, all the time. Valenti’s choice to unite those claims implies that the stigma is the only thing motivating people’s reluctance to collectivize specialized healthcare costs, which is just preposterous in a time when most Americans are reluctant to collectivize any healthcare costs at all.

The next argument is that many people in poor countries lack access to quality menstrual hygiene products, causing all sorts of problems for women and girls. I completely agree. There are a great many things which people in poor countries lack consistent access to and which might improve their lives. In fact, the inability to afford things is one of the least convenient things about being poor. It would be a happy world indeed if giving everyone everything they wanted free of charge would solve that inconvenience.

Regrettably, we do not live in such a world. Instead, we live in a world with scarce resources which not everyone can have unlimited access to – not even women. When this scarcity is coupled with inherent biological differences, natural inequality in outcomes occurs even under conditions of equal treatment at the hands of other human beings. This is not an injustice – it’s just the cards you’re dealt.

Next Valenti complains, apparently with a straight face, that “food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products.” They also do not cover golf balls, and for the same reason: they’re not fucking food. It’s one thing to stretch the definition of healthcare so as to cover routine hygiene products; it’s quite another to stretch the definition of food thusly.

Going through the rest of it line by line would take longer than I have to write, but the simplest summary I can come up with is that Jessica Valenti is what’s wrong with feminism. She laments that people disagree with her because they “lack an incredible amount of empathy…and because it has something to do with vaginas.” Which should be expected, because when you’re Valenti’s type of feminist, everything - from divergent opinions on healthcare, to complex issues of constitutional law, to principled disagreements on fiscal policy – has to do with vaginas most of all.

Why aren’t tampons free? Let us count the reasons. Tampons aren’t free because they do not grow on trees. Tampons aren’t free because creating them takes time, money and effort, and because those expenditures must be profitably reimbursed. Tampons aren’t free because providing free of charge to some people requires the forcible expropriation of labor and/or money from other people. Tampons aren’t free because toilet paper also isn’t free; because like pooping, menstruation is totally normal and not indicative of any problem whatsoever. Tampons aren’t free for the same reason soap and toothpaste and shampoo and shaving cream and diapers aren’t free: namely, that nobody is entitled to free products or services at other people’s expense, and especially not those as relatively new, cheap and commonplace as personal hygiene products. Tampons aren’t free because rights are not just things it would be sweet if everyone could have. Tampons aren’t free because rights do not change over time with each new invention. Tampons aren’t free because for the vast majority of human history, tampons did not exist, and the fact that some smart person thought to invent them as a convenience does not entitle you to the product of that person’s labor.

And most importantly, tampons aren’t free for the same reason Frederic Bastiat observed 150 years ago:


“Government is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”

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