- The menstrual product company Always, owned by Procter and Gamble, has announced it will remove the female symbol from its product packaging.
- The change was intended to make the products more inclusive of people who menstruate but don’t identify as women, including transgender men and nonbinary people.
- Although opponents worry the move erases women, advocates say it’s a step toward making reproductive health care more inclusive.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Menstrual pad maker Always has attracted controversy this week by announcing it will remove the female symbol from its products to reflect the fact that some people who menstruate don’t identify as women, including transgender men and nonbinary people.
The symbol, sometimes known as the Venus symbol, was an addition to the products’ packaging as of early 2019, according to Snopes.
While some reports, including from the Daily Wire, PJ Meida, and The Sun, say the company was forced into making the decision at the behest of lobbyists, Always’ parent company, Procter and Gamble, released a statement saying it opted to make the change after continued feedback from customers, including trans men and allies.
“For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so,” the company said in a statement, according to CNN. “We’re also committed to diversity and inclusion and are on a continual journey to understand the needs of all of our consumers.”
Some people on social mediahave decried the change for allegedly erasing women’s identities and are calling for a boycott of the company. But proponents have lauded the move as a step toward recognition of trans rights and a more inclusive understanding of reproductive health care.
“It’s just a way to have accurate, affirming medical care, to exist in your body and be comfortable and recognised for who you are,” Erika Hart, a sex educator and advocate, told Insider. “Periods are a biological, reproductive function that have nothing to do with how you think of yourself, which is what gender is. People have to get away from this idea that gender is connected to genitals.”
Not everyone who menstruates identifies as women
Much of the criticism and confusion about Proctor and Gamble’s decision appears to come from the misconception that only women menstruate. But it’s possible to have a uterus without identifying as a woman, as is the case with transgender men, as well as nonbinary and intersex people, since gender identity and sex are two different things.
Gender identity refers to a person’s internal concept of self, and can include terms like man, woman, transgender, and nonbinary. Sex refers to the biological designation a person is assigned at birth based on physical characteristics, including reproductive organs and chromosomes.
Someone’s gender identity can be aligned with their sex, in which case a person is described as cisgender. For transgender people, their gender identity differs in some way from their assigned sex.
For example, a transgender man is someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. A nonbinary person is someone who identifies as neither male nor female, regardless of how they were assigned at birth.
Some transgender people may choose to have hormone treatments or surgery to make their physical characteristics better align with their identity, but many do not.
As a result, trans man, nonbinary and intersex people, and cis women can all experience menstruation and all it entails, including having to shop for menstrual products
Trans and nonbinary people can struggle to receive competent health care
There are approximately 1 to 1.4 million trans people in the United States, according to gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter’s book “The Vagina Bible,” and as many as 50% of them have reported struggling to find adequate health care professionals.
Up to 30% have reported being harassed or even denied care by medical professionals, and as a result, 33% to 48% of trans people have said they have avoided or postponed health care out of fear or anxiety.
Lindsey Hoskins, health education director at Family Tree Clinic, which provides inclusive reproductive health care on a sliding fee scale, said trans and nonbinary patients frequently tell her they have faced incompetent medical providers.
“For example, someone might go to the doctor for a sore throat but end up being asked about their genitals, which is totally irrelevant and inappropriate,” she told Insider.
Periods can be especially uncomfortable, both physically and mentally, for people outside the gender binary
The discomfort of menstruation can be magnified for trans men who choose to take testosterone, since the hormone can cause vaginal inflammation and can make using tampons or menstrual cups painful, Gunter writes in “The Vagina Bible.”
The monthly experience can also be emotionally painful for trans and nonbinary people due to gender dysphoria, or the psychological distress caused by a disconnect between a person’s identity and their assigned sex.
While gender dysphoria can be brought on by social situations, such as when someone is misgendered (referred to in a way other than how they identify), it can also happen to trans men and nonbinary people when buying and using menstrual products. That’s because periods are typically referred to as only a “women’s issue” and most conversations about menstruation focus on women and girls.
“Dysphoria can be a big, distressing, and overwhelming thing. It causes a lot of depression and anxiety,” Arden Kindred, a licensed midwife, told Insider. Removing gendered packages from menstrual products is a small change that can help ease that, they added.
“Trans don’t want to be excluded and misgendered by products they’re spending money on,” Kindred said. “Consumers have a right to ask brands to make things a better fit for them.”
Validating all people who menstruate is a win for everyone, adovocates say
Hoskins said the move to make menstrual products more gender inclusive could directly affect more people than many realise, since research shows that a growing number of Americans, particularly young people, identify as trans, nonbinary, or otherwise gender nonconforming.
The shift could also indirectly benefit cis gender women by increasing access to care and reducing stigma of menstruation, Hart added.
“[Menstrual products could] become literally more accessible to all bodies, not something that’s marked as taboo or disgusting,” Hart said. “It becomes less of an embarrassing thing to have them or talk about them.” They might even get cheaper, she said; a lack of affordable, sanitary menstrual care products continues to be a problem worldwide.
Hart added that isn’t enough for corporations to just change their marketing materials without making other, more significant efforts. “If you’re not hiring people of all genders and races, if your office is just a bunch of cis white men, that’s just capitalism moving toward diversity to sell things,” Hart said.