A U.K. supermarket apologized this week amid online outrage over a sign posted in one of its stores asking customers to report any stealing of tampons.
Tesco said it was “very sorry” on Tuesday for allegedly contributing to sexist discrimination against women and people of other gender identities who menstruate.
“Help us build safer communities — report shoplifting to a member of staff,” read the sign, which appeared in the menstrual products aisle of a store in Kensington, London, according to Buzzfeed News.
A Tesco spokesperson told Buzzfeed that the offending signage has since been removed.
“We know that the cost of buying essential sanitary products can be a real struggle for some, which is why we were the first retailer to cover the cost of the ‘tampon tax’ [also known as the ‘pink tax’] to make these items more affordable,” the spokesperson said. “We want everyone to feel welcome in our stores and are very sorry for any offense caused.”
The controversy reportedly started when a man took a photo of the sign and sent it to his friend. That friend was liberal journalist named Oonag Ryder, who posted the image to Twitter.
“We really need a genuine conversation as a society about what ‘safety’ means,” she said.
— Oonagh Ryder (@oonskie) January 29, 2020
Ryder, who hosts a podcast advocating U.K. prison reform, later told BuzzFeed: “Signs like these encourage ordinary people to be suspicious and resentful toward their neighbors, rather than be angry about the root causes of someone needing to shoplift menstrual products. The UK has very high levels of inequality due to the decisions of successive governments, with increasing numbers of people unable to afford basic necessities.”
‘Mass uproar’ over Tesco sign against stealing tampons
Ryder’s tweet accumulated more than 15,000 likes as part of what Buzzfeed described as a “mass uproar online.”
Twitter activists expressed their feeling that Tesco’s concern about theft was insignificant compared to the injustice of depriving menstrual products to people who need them. They were generally careful to note that their advocacy was transgender inclusive.
A number of Twitter users faulted Tesco for allegedly making would-be shoplifters feel unsafe.
Women, trans men, or anyone who menstruates should not have to worry about being reported for taking a necessity that I personally believe should be free
— ✨Scarlet✨|| Sarah Paulson Stan Account (@DismalBabyHands) January 30, 2020
Some declared menstrual products are a human right that must be provided free of charge.
Shoplifting isn't the problem. It's the fact that sanitary products aren't free and accessible to those who menstruate. https://t.co/eCg3YUsNCu
— The Angry Two-Spirit (@TaylorEenaHoe) January 30, 2020
Others noted that the United Kingdom’s socialized healthcare system provides free condoms, and so claimed the state has an obligation to pay for menstrual products too.
If the government can offer free condoms then they should offer free sanitary products. https://t.co/DHYrzXBeQo
— alex🌩 (@alexgough_) January 29, 2020
The National Health Service also covers contraception for women.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, social justice activists have in recent years embraced menstrual healthcare as an “intersectional” cause that champions both biological women and transgender people.
However, some feminists have joined conservatives in arguing that the transgender rights movement is actually a direct threat to women’s rights and the very notion of a woman.