Aunt Flo. Lady problems. Mother Nature.
There are as many ways to refer to one’s menstrual cycle as there are options for dealing with it, but both the language and the products we use for our periods share one big problem—they tend to be highly gendered.
Think about it: how many times have you seen the phrase “feminine hygiene” emblazoned across the menstrual product aisle at your local drugstore?
A quick glance at the section in most stores—name notwithstanding—confronts us with an explosion of pink and purple colors, excessive flower graphics, and delicate-sounding fragrance names. Most, if not all, major players in the industry still gender their products in their taglines; “Tampax Tampons & Feminine Care Products” and “Always Feminine Products” appear at the top of a menstrual product Google search.
Not only does this terminology stigmatize menstruation (last we checked, there’s nothing unhygienic about getting your period), this language alienates people all across the gender spectrum. For a variety of reasons, not all women menstruate. And not everyone who menstruates is a woman. There are so many reasons to ditch the term, but perhaps most important is that it prevents many people from accessing gender-affirming menstrual care. Concerns about misgendering, lack of respect, or incompetence from medical providers prevent trans and gender-nonconforming people from seeking the vital healthcare they need and deserve, particularly when it comes to gynecological care: one study(1) showed that over a third of non-binary people have refused to seek medical care due to fear of discrimination.
Setting aside societal reinforcement of gender norms for a moment—look at it another way, the gendering of period products is plain ole bad for business. For example, menstrual products branded using stereotypically “feminine” signifiers such as pink and purple colors, flowers, and language such as “for her” completely ignore the fact that plenty of people who menstruate identify as men or outside the gender binary entirely, and so likely aren’t interested in using products that don’t match their gender identity and expression.
Thankfully, as the number of period product options on the market grows exponentially, new companies are popping up to start shifting our culture to be more inclusive to all bleeders. Though we have a lot of work to do, we’ve come a long way.
The bottom line? Though the major players are still way behind, progress is ahead!
Written by: Sarah Doyel, Health Nerd + Writer
(1) Grant, Jaime M., Lisa A. Mottet, Justin Tanis, Jack Harrison, Jody L. Herman, and Mara Keisling. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011.
(2) Weiss, Suzannah. “THINX’s New Ads Are Breaking Even More Taboos.” Bustle, 17 Dec. 2018, www.bustle.com/articles/161250-awesome-new-thinx-ads-feature-a-trans-man-in-period-underwear.
(3) Buckley, Anna. “This Gender-Neutral Period Company Partners with Businesses to Make Tampons as Accessible as Toilet Paper.” HelloGiggles, HelloGiggles, 17 Sept. 2017, hellogiggles.com/lifestyle/health-fitness/gender-neutral-period-company-free-tampons/.
(4) Antuña, Magdalena. “6 Eco-Friendly Period Products for Trans Men.” Selva Beat, www.selvabeat.com/home/6-eco-products-trans-men.