Healthy Body

Why We Need Genderless ‘Feminine Hygiene Products’

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsOctober 24, 2019

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Photo: Stocksy/Ani Dimi; Graphics: Well+Good Creative

You can buy period products in a variety of colors as long as you select a shade of pink or purple—you know, “girl” colors. This marketing strategy symbolizes a conscious decision to leave people who don’t align with the traditional idea of a “woman” out of the conversation about menstruation. With a step toward inclusivity, maker of tampons and pads Always announced its decision to remove the female symbol from packaging of so-called “feminine hygiene products” in order to recognize transgender and non-binary customers.

Transgender activists and allies publicly asked Proctor & Gamble, which owns Always, to redesign the pad’s wrapper without the symbol, reports CNN. The company issued a press release explaining that its new packaging would to bolster the inclusivity of their products by removing the feminine “Venus” symbol. “For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so,” Procter & Gamble said Tuesday in a statement. “We’re also committed to diversity and inclusion and are on a continual journey to understand the needs of all of our consumers.”

Every company’s current emphasis should be to fulfill the needs of diverse consumers, says Joanna McClintick, LCSW, youth sexual health coordinator at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. “The simple fact of having a period can be traumatic or gender dysphoric for young people in the gender nonconforming and trans-male or -masculine communities,” says McClintick. “It can cause disappointing feelings about how their body is going to change in contrast to their identity as they grow.”

Currently, the narrative around periods consists of woman’s “coming of age,” which ignores many voices and bodies. “That’s why this move to be more inclusive with product packaging is so important: It’s a reminder to everyone that getting your period is just part of puberty, regardless of your gender,” says McClintick. “It creates more room for everyone to navigate this part of their life without promoting shame.”

Always’ move comes at the heels of other small yet mighty edits to make menstrual products speak to a larger audience. Menstrual cup brand The Flex Company just refreshed its language to be more diverse; Lunapads released a period boxer brief; and all of Aunt Flow actively makes its products gender-inclusive. However, since Always is among the limited menstrual health products you can buy at the drugstore, its decision will hopefully prompt other in-aisle companies like Kotex and Tampax to cast wider marketing nets.

Lauren Bille, founder and CEO of Allbodies, believes companies should also do away with the term “feminine hygiene products.” “This is a horrible phrase for multiple reasons,” she says. “Not everyone who bleeds identifies with being ‘feminine’ and the word hygiene continues the message of periods being dirty.” Further, a broadening of the terminology to “people with periods” or “people who menstruate” has the power to make individuals feel included in the menstrual health conversation, says Anna Kiesnowski, LSW, the gender affirming services manager at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia.

“By telling different narratives, we are teaching people and influencing beliefs,” says Bille. “There isn’t a box we all fit into. The experience of bleeding is varied. For some it’s a nuisance, for others it’s a reminder of disconnection, and for others, it’s our greatest power.” Brands are waking up to the fact that pink boxes and binary sex symbols are too narrow to encompass the diverse experiences of people who menstruate.

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