We’ve been getting hit over the head for a while now with this new language wherein women aren’t the only ones who have periods. Even though that doesn’t make any sense, because only people with female reproductive systems have periods, and only females have female reproductive systems, companies that make products for women to use while menstruating are being convinced to change their marketing approach so that they’re not marketing products only females need to females.
The latest menstrual product provider to get into the act is Always. A Proctor & Gamble Company, Always is a long time maker of sanitary napkins, or pads. But they’ve recently come under fire for having the female symbol on the wrappers of their pads, because some people who have female reproductive systems and need to use pads feel excluded by the symbol for female. In July, there were a few viral tweets about how trans and non-binary people use pads too, and the symbol is exclusionary. Always, signalling how progressive and forward-thinking they are, came back and said that as of December of this year, that symbol would no longer be on the packaging.
What they probably weren’t expecting was that a bunch of gender critical women, who have been making their voices louder of late, would have none of it. These women called for a boycott of Always products. Speaking in the Daily Mail, Julie Bindel remarked that “removing the female symbol from sanitary towel packaging is basically denying the existence of women.”
Always isn’t backing down. “A spokesman for the firm said: ‘For over 35 years, Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so. We’re also committed to diversity and inclusion, and we realise that not everyone who has a period and needs to use a pad identifies as female. That is why we wanted to ensure that anyone who needs to use a period product feels comfortable in doing so with Always.” But they might end up losing more than they gain, since only women have a need for pads.
Menstrual product company Public Goods is also interested in making sure women know that women aren’t the only ones who experience a need for tampons and pads. On their site, they talk about how their corporate speak is changing from using the term feminine hygiene to menstrual care. Writing for the Public Goods blog, Ashley Laderer points out that “Transgender guys can have periods. Non-binary people can have periods. It’s not just women, and to think as such is small-minded.” So if you’re one of the many women who is pretty much 100 percent sure that only female reproductive having persons, aka women, are able to have periods, there’s something wrong with you. Telling women that believing the truth about their own bodies makes them small-minded is basically the worst kind of gaslighting. It’s saying that if women don’t believe a lie, there’s something wrong with them.
Trans activist Amber Leventry, who identifies as non-binary, took to the blog for Thinx period underwear to talk about inclusion in the conversation around menstruation. “We need more inclusive language and added sensitivity to the conversation about periods so that space can be held for trans folks who feel betrayed by their body whether they are capable of bleeding or not. This starts at home and needs to be enforced in schools and in the media. Companies that sell menstruation products and their accompanying ads need to present outside of a gender binary and offer support to men, women, nonbinary, and genderfluid folks. This needs to be in language and imagery on their packaging.”
When Thinx launched, it showed trans models in their advertising on New York City subways. They were intentionally inclusive of “all people with periods” from the beginning, so it makes sense that they would double down on this rhetoric. But that’s still just what it is, it’s a word game, it’s language play, and it doesn’t change the reality of women’s bodies. Women menstruate, they’re the only ones that do. The other sex, men, do not menstruate.
The odd part is in all of this how much of a value judgement is placed on sex. If you are female but would prefer to be male or neither, the idea is that there’s something wrong with being female, that being thought of as female carries with it a whole bunch of expectations and determinations about you and your worth based on your biological sex alone. Instead of changing our bodies and the entirety of language, why not work to change the expectations and stereotypes?
Being a woman carries with it no innate value, nor does being a man. These are words that define whether you are male or female, which also has no value judgement. Why should it? Women are being told that their bodies are not reality, that instead these feelings about what your gender is are more relevant than physical bodies. But this tactic, to erase women from their own reproductive systems, won’t work no matter how many people buy into it and adopt this new language that denies the existence of women.
Women will continue existing, will continue menstruating, and will continue birthing the population. Women are real, they are the only ones that need pads and tampons, and more women are starting to speak out against this refusal to acknowledge their lived experience. Perhaps the next menstrual product company to be dragged into the fray will confirm the existence of women, instead of denying their reality just to get some progressive points.