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What's with the 'Girls Only' signs, New World?

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Contributor:
Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

There is a certain aisle in New World which always makes me a bit squirmy to visit.

This is the aisle that most women in New Zealand between the ages of 12-50 visit once a month.

It's the aisle that men stereotypically get a bit odd about and the aisle where one particular product lives that I often feel a peculiar sense of shame and embarrassment buying.

The menstruation product aisle.

Women aren't supposed to talk about their periods. We are taught that it's shameful, secret, gross. It is a fearsome, ugly thing for a woman to bleed out of her vagina each month, and we should talk about it in private, or just not talk about it at all.

So the monthly quest to buy pads and tampons is already accompanied by a pervasive feeling that I am doing something wrong.

There are three things that New World, our leaders in government, and a patriarchal world-view are doing to make it worse.

Girls Only

When you walk into the aisle in New World where the pads and tampons are kept, there is a sign above them that says "Girls Only."

So? You might say. It's just a turn of phrase marking out products for women. What's the big deal?

The big deal is referring to women as girls. It's weird, sexist, and it's 2017 - we all know that women bleed every month, so there shouldn't be a need to infantilize us.

This already happens every day, in the things we are told we can't carry, believe, process, fight, drive and rationalize, because we are women. We internalize these microagressions and power differentials every day and buy into a world that consistently tells us that we aren't enough - and therefore are not equal.

Also in the same aisle is Mens Grooming. "Boys" signage is nowhere in sight, in a move that seems designed to leave us in no doubt the patriarchy is still alive, well, and lurking creepily in the menstruation products aisle at New World.

Cost

The cost of tampons and pads is prohibitive. It's already been well reported that these are not subsidised; but did you know that these are classed as a 'luxury item'?

We have 15% GST whacked on - $2,400 in a woman's lifetime, to be exact - as part of the $16,000 women shell out in our lifetime for tampons and pads.

So, in addition to a 12% per cent pay gap as a New Zealand person working; where an average salary of $74,965 actually becomes $66,691 per year if I'm a woman (and certainly Maori and Pacific Island women have lower rates of pay compared to me as a privileged white woman), I can also take off $16,000 out of my non-existent house mortgage fund in order to pay for pads and tampons.

Or, I can take $16,000 out of my hypothetical children's mouths - or find creative ways to cope with my period while I feed my kids, as some Mums do. Or I can take $16,000, and use it for cost of living expenses. Or I can use it if my car breaks down. I'm not a solo parent, a beneficiary, and don't suffer from any extensive mental or physical health concerns - lucky me.

It's $5 for a pack of 144 condoms from Family Planning.

Perpetuaton of Mythology

Usually when any facet of the issue of inequality/inequity is raised there are a number of excuses from the '"I'm a white male and I'm deeply offended that you have suggested any kind of problem" as I sit here holding forth on my shining pedestal of privilege and drink from my cup of zero experience and understanding' contingent.

If you fall into that category, firstly let me say, don't worry! It's so easy to do when you're born into privilege; it's hard to see past what you've known your whole life. I can help you out of that rut though:

Firstly, examine your privilege. I don't think New World put up 'girls only' signs in order to deliberately reinforce a patriarchal culture - but I think the decision-making involved could have involved a greater number of questions around equity and perpetuation of negative stereotypes - as should any decision involving signage in a public space. I think the decision was made as one of those snap decisions people make - like starting an email to a group of female colleagues "Hi Girls."

If in doubt, reverse the situation - nobody starts an emails Saying "Hi Boys, or Hi Men," yet "Hi Girls" is common in workplace culture - seeing a pattern here?

Secondly, stop explaining the female experience to females. Stop redefining that experience in terms that make you less uncomfortable. Stop reframing that experience in a way that means that no change is necessary. Don't perpetuate the myth that says "she hasn't said anything, she's fine with it."

Listen. Keep learning - everyone's experience adds something new. Talk to someone who identifies as a woman. Educate yourself. Don't expect to be thanked for advocating for equity - that's the way it should be, but power has inculcated you against this idea.

When we tell you that it feels uncomfortable as a woman to purchase products from an aisle that says "Girls Only", believe us.

When we tell you that we can't buy tampons and pads because we genuinely can't afford them, believe us.

When we tell you that calling women "girls" denies them their sexual agency, and perpetuates the very same rape culture that lead to the Roastbusters, we aren't making shit up for the lulz. Believe us.

There is a greater discussion happening in NZ right now about equity, and I don't have all the answers - I don't speak for all New Zealand women and it's not right that I do; it needs to involve all of us. But I do know that it starts with asking small questions that may lead to big change - including ones that do affect me and other like-minded women -ones in the vicinity of "What's with the "Girls Only" signs?

In parts of Nepal, women must wait out their period in a cow shed.

In New Zealand, women are diminished every day, by the lack of urgency that is placed on prioritising making pads and tampons affordable, by the value that is placed on us as working members of society, and by the value that is placed on us by making us walk into a place every month that sends the message that we are young, frivolous, inequal - and therefore not worth anyone's time.

Further reading:

Calling Grown Women ‘Girls’ Is Sexist As Hell – Here Are 4 Reasons Why

Petition: GST removed from Female Sanitary Products

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