An Interview with Charlie Edge

(For Parallel Magazine)

A few weeks back, members of the UK Parliament (including many women), voted to maintain VAT on sanitary products. Sanitary towels and tampons are still on the list of taxed ‘non-essential, luxury items’ that does not include edible icing flowers, jaffa cakes, alcoholic jellies and exotic meats like kangaroo or crocodile. Given the utterly bizarre situation of deeming products used to stem unavoidable blood flow a luxury, but crocodile meat an obvious essential, people have been reacting online and in public with complete outrage. Many protest groups and events have been formed all over the UK but Charlie Edge’s demonstration has received particular media attention, being covered by Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Independent and The Metro to name but a few. She has even been invited to speak on radio shows following this fantastic coverage because her protest was particularly poignant, having realised that regular demonstrations were not going to cut it and the government need to be shown just how ‘luxurious’ menstruation really is.

On Friday 6th November Charlie, along with two friends including Ruth Howarth, spent her day protesting outside of the Houses of Parliament whilst free-bleeding. They chose white trousers to make sure people would take notice and posted the following status on Facebook to inform people about their demonstration:

‘Today i am forgoing tampons and pads outside the houses of parliament to show how ‘luxury’ tampons really are.
We are also raising money to buy tampons for homeless shelters, womens shelters and the refugee crisis.
We’re getting lots of dirty looks and someone just shouted at us to get a job.

But everyone keeps saying “haha omg how quickly would we get free tampons if everyone stopped wearing them?!”
So, I’m giving it a go.

Taxes are necessary, i get it.
So are tampons/ pads.

They’re not luxury items, anymore than jaffa cakes, edible cake decorations, exotic meats or any other number of things currently not taxed as luxury items.

Maternity pads are taxed, but incontinence pads arent.
We’ve had enough. Maybe bleeding on their doorstep will get the tories to do something about this?’

Following all the attention Charlie and Ruth have remained cool and collected, posting grateful responses to everyone supporting them via social media and articulate, polite responses to those that have been critical. They have also made sure to keep linking people to articles and information to further their campaign as well as making sure the public are aware that it is not just a women’s issue: not all women menstruate and menstruating does not mean you are a woman. I was lucky enough to get to chat with Charlie, who was very friendly and happy to contribute her message and aims. I asked her to explain what happened and fill me in on the details:

Can you describe your demonstration?

We went to Westminster, popped into a public toilet first to remove tampons an then stood opposite parliament for three hours, whilst posting online about what we were doing and why we were doing it.

What sort of reaction did you get from passers by?

Mostly positive! I was very surprised! One or two people told us “get a job” or “get your tits out” as they drove past but almost everyone who stopped to talk to us was kind and supportive.

What sort of reaction have you had on social media?

It’s been about 50/50. But I’ve already responded to most of the negative comments. All the information is out there and I’m getting bored of saying the same things again and again and linking people to my responses. It’s all out there for anyone interested enough to do the research. We’ve found that generally though, most people who hate us are going to hate us regardless of how polite we are and how calmly we try to explain our argument, so I’ve had to ask a couple of people to stop messaging me and had to block a few more. Some people just can’t help but have the last word. People are reeeeally trying to upset Ruth and me and honestly, they need to re-evaluate their moral compass much more than we need to re-evaluate our political methods.

Why is this such an important issue?

Because it’s a government, made up mostly of cis men, essentially taxing us £100 for the ‘luxury’ of bleeding once a month for fifty years. People keep saying that it’s so small an issue and “think of women in third world countries”. First of all, if you’re using women in the third world as a reason not to deal with sexism in the UK, you probably have white knight syndrome. It is possible for there to be more than one bad thing at a time. If our 5% tax went on free sanitary care for the third world then I’d shut up pronto but it doesn’t, it goes towards necessities like helicopters and crocodile meat. There are also plenty of women living in poverty in the UK. If our 5% tax went on free pads and tampons on the NHS similar to the C-card scheme, then I wouldn’t mind paying it! This is not just a women’s issue it’s a class issue.

If you could summarise in one sentence what you wish to say to the government what would it be?

Try harder!! And also, worry more about protecting people and worry less about protecting money.

Have you got any future plans for the campaign and how would you advise others to contribute?  

Ruth and I are currently raising money and getting donations of sanitary items to donate to shelters. We’re dealing with the response to this before we do anything else. A lot of people have asked me if I’ll do another protest and they’ll join me. We might do another! But you know what please don’t wait for us to take the lead! Start your own protests! All over the UK! Let’s show the government that it isn’t just “two girls outside parliament” but thousands of angry people!!

 

The Conversations We Should Be Having About Anti-Depressants

 

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I’ve been on Fluxotine for almost three months now and it has already helped me far more than I expected. It took me around six months to persuade myself to try anti-depressants for the second time, despite being at times very ill with anxiety and depression. Considering the intensity of what I was feeling, I somehow still found room in my head to add one more worry to the pre-existing ones. I was ashamed at the thought of requiring anti-depressants and terrified of people knowing I was on medication. I should point out that I’m aware many people on anti-depressants are very comfortable talking about it and I admire them enormously. But I am also aware that the popularity of movements like #smashthestigma or #medicatedandmighty stems from a need for encouragement and solidarity against the prejudice surrounding mental health and medication.

When you go to a health clinic for anti-depressants or similar medicine the doctor will explain in detail that they are very safe, side effects should be minimal and so on. But the real questions running through the minds of a lot of us are completely different to those addressed.

I struggled to see anti-depressants as a regular type of medication, imagining that they acted as a cheat for general life and panicking that I wasn’t actually unusually depressed but looking for a crutch to make my life easier than everyone else’s. I took up debates with myself on whether depression and anxiety were simply part of my personality and taking pills for it was a decision to medically alter my genetic make-up. I also wondered whether I’d be on them for the rest of my life and forget what I’m naturally like as a person or perhaps end up stuck in some sort of emotionally dead limbo, having heard people discuss how anti-depressants ‘eradicate any emotional responses’. But mostly I was convinced that being on medication for mental health reasons made me some sort of weak and pathetic human being incapable of coping with regular life.

To people who haven’t experienced these specific insecurities and to myself today, those thought processes seem completely illogical. I also really want to emphasise that I have never for a second looked at anyone else in such a critical way. The fact is it’s far too easy to bully and belittle yourself whilst still admiring the people around you. I saw my medicated friends as brave for coping so well with their mental health issues and taking that step but saw myself as a failure, becoming even more inwardly angry and critical by making comparisons. Once I approached the topic I found that many of my close friends have their own experiences with mental health and therefore could encourage me to view things differently and find the confidence to try things that could help. My mum asked me to consider whether I’ve noticed any of the results I’d conjured up in my head in other people, whilst my friends were very comfortable discussing and comparing their medication and its effects. People also encouraged me to think of it as denying myself a cast for a broken leg or an antibiotic for tonsillitis, which is a comparison that makes anti-depressants far easier to consider. By the time the #medicatedandmighty campaign circulated on Facebook and Twitter it made me immensely happy and proud to feel like part of such a supportive community. When I shared my selfie I did it in a rush of excitement then suddenly realised I had a lot of people on Facebook from work and high school that I definitely wouldn’t talk to about my mental health. However the response surprised me first through the number of likes from unexpected people, but secondly through the number of people who commented saying that they are also on anti-depressants – people I had no clue were using them.

This was the point when I realised how damaging the lack of conversation around mental health and medication is. People should feel comfortable and accepted for whatever illness they have (physical or mental). A large chunk of society still views mental illness as a taboo subject. People often take to social media to express their experiences and find support but that isn’t enough, the general perspective is harmful and putting people off seeking help. Being able to look at myself with more confidence has made me realise that no one deserves to feel inferior because they require medication. Being able to admit that you need anti-depressants and ask for the help, let alone openly talk about it, makes you a strong person in itself and mental health needs to start being taken as seriously as physical illness so people are encouraged to feel comfortable with it. I’m hoping that my attempt to cram my learning curve into this small word limit might contribute to developing that necessary discussion.