Possessing a vagina, aside from the beautiful things that come with it like wide hips and the ability to multi-task, is an incredible financial burden for the average woman. Considering that reproductive health (for both men and women) is essential to the legacy of our society as we know it, you’d think that maintenance of the organs we require in order to propagate the human race would be taken more seriously by lawmakers. That maybe the bajillionty things a woman has to do in any given year (substantially less than the average man, unless dudes suddenly start getting periods once a month) in order to care for her child bearing bits could be made a bit more affordable for the average person.
Overwhelmingly in the USA, people love making women have babies–just think of any pro-life argument as evidence–and yet the same people baulk at subsidising a basic level of health care for the vaginas and uteruses that have been charged with this moral obligation to bear children at all costs. I am an uninsured Australian woman living in New York City, and after a sometimes terrifying and always bankrupting experience tending to my reproductive health in this country, I think it’s high time tangible changes were made to the affordability of OBGYN and other incidentals that come with having a vagina. I do not believe any woman should have to choose between rent and a pap test.
The Internet loves to rant about women’s rights, objectification and socio-economic disparities; but rarely do I see someone addressing, in practical terms, the cost of being a woman. Yes, as a woman you might be victim to unequal pay, sexal harassment, or other general mistreatments. But–and please excuse me if this sounds like I’m a conspiracy theorist, because I’m not, I’m being very serious–I sometimes feel that, when I’m pantiless, feet in stirrups, vagina clamped open and a gynecologist looking into my vagina with binoculars, poking at my cervix, that this could be the patriarchy’s way of stripping me of my very last shred of dignity. And then on top of that, the receptionist takes me for almost $300 on my way out.
In order to adequately understand the purely financial burden of the crippling vagina tax, here’s a breakdown of, on average, how much I spend on necessary and unavoidable maintenance for my pink bits per year (waxing and vajazzling not included):
Because I have HPV, I have bi-yearly pap tests, at $275 per visit to the gynecologist and normally an extra $200 odd dollars for lab fees. My first two pap tests in New York I took at the free clinic–during the first, the doctor was eating an apple, and the nurse who took my blood, struggling to find a vein, bruised me up so badly I could barely bend my arm for a week afterwards. The second time, after hemorrhaging during sex, the doctor at the free clinic refused my pap test, told me it was “normal” to bleed during sex (knowing full well I had HPV), and sent me away. I ended up going to my current, regularly priced gynecologist two days later, who found my HPV had reached stage 4 and was in a serious condition. Consider now that an estimated 20 million sexually active Americans (how many of those insured?) have HPV and you do the math.
Yearly average cost: $950
Since finding out I had HPV 3 years ago I have had 3 colposcopies. These come in at the same rate as a pap, and are generally required where you have an irregular pap test. If you have HPV, this can be often.
Yearly average cost: $475
This year I also got to have a lovely LEEP procedure (and I’m currently waiting to find out if I get to have a second!), where they blast irregular cells from your cervix with a laser. Again, the cost comes in similarly to a pap test if you have your gynecologist do it while you’re only under a local anesthetic in his/her surgery, rather than having it done under general anesthetic at the hospital (where I would assume it would cost an extortionately higher price).
Yearly average cost: $475
Days off work
Taking time off work, especially when you don’t work in a salaried job, to look after your vagina, is something we don’t consider, but it takes its toll. For the $475 LEEP procedure I was prostrate for 2 days–and losing 2 days of income, when you’re making minimum wage, can be a terrifying prospect when you’ve just shelled out so much money. Going to doctors appointments also requires time off work, and subsequently less dollars in the pocket.
My doctor orders me to take folic acid and b-vitamin supplements; these are not cheap, coming in, on average, from a regular drug store at around $15 for 100 tablets.
Yearly average cost: $80
Birth control pill
I stock up on birth control every time I go back to Australia, as my doctor will often write me a year’s worth of prescription. I pay around $30 for a visit to the doctor, and then around $22 for 4 months of pills. The one time I had to get a prescription here, I had to pay the $275 doctor’s fee, and he was generous enough, knowing my situation, to give me a couple of months of free birth control from his stash.
Yearly average cost: $341
From an average drug store, condoms cost around $15 for a packet of 10. I know, are you fucking kidding me? I like to keep condoms in my room at all times (you never know when God’s mercy will send a man to you), but to be honest I don’t have to restock all that often, maybe 3 or so times a year. I imagine if I had a boyfriend I’d be restocking on a weekly basis, but maybe we’d share the cost.
Yearly average cost: $45
Pads and tampons
Here’s something men don’t consider–the cost of a period. I probably use a packet of tampons and pads (I prefer to sleep in them) every second period. Let’s assume on average pack of either product is around $8 (some fancy brands are more expensive and some of the drugstore brands are cheaper, but sometimes really gross and uncomfortable to use). Let’s also factor in that sometimes you’re caught out and end up buying extra packets, or you keep some at work, some at home and some in your purse–possibly adding an extra 5-6 packets of product per year.
Yearly average cost: $131
That’s a whopping $2,497 a year, in a country where on average, women make only 81% of male wages, and the average woman makes $36,931 before tax (which, coming in at around 30% in New York including all state and federal taxes leaves around $25,851 in pocket). So that makes it almost 10% of the average woman’s yearly wage that goes towards reproductive health. Now remember that many women are also going through infinitely more complex and financially draining reproductive illnesses than me (from cervical to breast cancer) and require far more expensive treatments. Pregnancy is not cheap either. Nor is abortion. Also remember that “average” wage is a mean–it’s the middle. So essentially, half the people who have vaginas in America are making LESS than that $25k estimation above, under which circumstances their vaginas cost them MORE than 10% of their annual income.
With all that in mind, and knowing that the inevitable and unavoidable requirement that having vagina and uterus (or geez, a human body, for that matter) requires near constant maintenance–surely, for the most basic, most necessary, most unassailable fact of life, there should be some government subsidised provision to assist women look after the parts we need for making babies, and you know, keeping the human race from going extinct and stuff. You would think, for the way we blag on about the way women are still treated so poorly in our society, someone would notice that not only are we oppressed under the male gaze, but that we’re floundering financially, with many of our economic decisions made under the orbit of looming pap tests and menstrual necessities.