As long as menstruation has been around (i.e. forever) it’s been classified as something uniquely feminine. Throughout centuries of civilization, individual cultures have identified periods as either a sacred and powerful time or a dangerous and unclean one. But regardless of how societies feel about the process of menstruation itself, it has been clearly labeled as something that embodies femininity in its most untouched state.
Seemingly an ancient thought process to those of us who understand the need for inclusivity, the words feminine and period still go hand in hand today. You see it used on the packaging of period care products, in commercials, and in the daily language that many of us use to discuss our menses. It’s been handed down from generation to generation and seems so normal to most people.
The key word here? Most. The majority of people identify as cisgender, meaning that they feel that they were born with the correct genitals.
But what about the rest of the population? The transgender men who have uteruses but do not identify as women? The agender or nonbinary people who prefer gender neutral pronouns like “they” to “him” or “her”? These marginalized groups have been left out of the menstruation conversation entirely and it’s a bloody shame.
WHO HAS PERIODS?
I think the first real question to tackle is “who has periods?”. If we can understand that it’s not just a cis-woman who has - and wants to have a uterus - that is buying these menstruation products, then we unlock a door that will allow for further exploration into the true problem with labeling them as “feminine”.
The genders that experience a monthly period include:
- Transgender men
- Agender people
- Nonbinary people
- Cisgender women
These groups of people all experience the monthly flow of blood from their uterus and, decidedly, not all of them identify as “feminine”. Additionally, plenty of people who do identify as feminine don't experience menstruation.
People past menopause don't experience periods and they are not inherently less feminine. Transgender women and women who have undergone a hysterectomy don't experience monthly bleeding and still are able to express any amount of femininity that they desire.
Conclusively, we can tell that not all women have periods and not all people who have periods are women.
HOW FEMININE-ONLY LANGUAGE HURTS
Humans love to use language to categorize and sort. Labels are often used as shorthand to describe groups of people, especially when we feel the need to categorize a group without having to acknowledge every individual. A problem is created when the language used is inaccurate and leads to incorrect or generalized assumptions about a group of people - like that all people who have periods are women. When we hold tightly to these outdated and presumptive labels, like “feminine hygiene”, we exclude and shame people. Sure, it’s probably not intentional. But intention really has no effect on how a transgender man feels purchasing a menstrual product that has “feminine care” slapped all over it.
The feminine-only language approach to having a period is not only irrelevant but can also lead to a plethora of issues that affect self-esteem, cause body dysmorphia, and contribute to the overall misunderstanding of people who don’t identify with their born gender.
All this is to say that we, as a culture, need to be conscious of the impact that simple shifts in language may have and recognize that those shifts have a marked effect on our behavior and perceptions. When we use the term feminine, we imply that this product is for use only by those who identify and present as such. Frankly? That's kind of silly. We can use the power of our words to make menstruation, an inclusive experience, actually feel that way.
This shift is also happening at a time when our cultural understanding of how differences in the ideas of sex, gender, and expression lead to a better picture of individuals. Rather than trying to force everyone into a definitive label of man or woman, we are learning to embrace the spectrums of diversity that make humanity so amazing. We can parse the differences between sex and gender on various spectrums and acknowledge that biology might not be related to gender expression at all. Want to present as feminine and have feminine tools for your period? Awesome! But that shouldn't be the only option and especially not the default one.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD
So, it’s pretty clear that the use of female-centric words needs to cease in the menstruation industry. This begs the question of what to say instead.
Depending on the context, you can try to avoid naming groups of people. For example, instead of saying “Some people who menstruate prefer Lunette” you could say “Lunette is a preferred menstrual care product”. I mean, we all get that, if you’re using a period product then you probably have a period. I’ve been guilty of quipping “people with uteruses” from time to time - until I realized that, hey, this person who has a uterus may really, really wish they didn’t have one. And so to lump them into a group that reminds them that they do have a uterus, possibly contributing to body dysmorphia, well, I don’t want any part of that.
In terms of addressing body parts, it’s always a good idea to use correct medical terminology like “vagina”, “cervix”, or “uterus”, instead of cutesie names. Yes, these words may still make some people uncomfortable but needing a degree of precision when talking about matters of health is necessary and, from what I understand, most people who do not identify as female are understanding and alright with this.
It is time for us to use this knowledge and understanding to change another label. We’ve changed racist labels. We’ve changed sexist labels. Now, let’s change cisexist ones. Periods are not inherently feminine. Periods are a biological phenomenon that impacts the lives of people who are born with a uterus. We have the power to grow toward inclusion of all people who menstruate, and now is the time for that shift. All people deserve to feel comfortable taking care of themselves during their time of the month. Period.