The future is period positive. Or, as Chella Quint puts it: period neutral using a positive approach. But to get there, we need to grapple with menstrual stigma — from its most egregious offenses, to its most everyday mundane — and really interrogate the language, beliefs and practices that support it at every level.
You might think critiquing the phrase "feminine hygiene" is trivial, but for some of us, it really matters and is connected to larger systems of oppression. Challenging the convention of categorizing menstrual products (and by extension, those who use them) as "feminine", is just one of the ways some of us choose to resist the biological essentialism that genders our bodies without our consent.
Likewise, questioning why shifty euphemisms are an acceptable stand-in for straight talk about periods pushes back against coded language that instills shame into our everyday lives.
Here are 3 reasons to say um, can you not? to anyone calling period products “feminine hygiene”.
ˈyo͞ofəˌmizəm/ a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
Speaking openly and honestly about menstruation helps break the cycle of secrecy and misinformation that unjustly impacts so many lives worldwide. To genuinely know and care for our whole selves, we must find and support ways to talk about — and really advocate for — our bodies and our health needs without embarrassment or apology.
While euphemisms may make us feel marginally less awkward in the moment, they’re not a great long term strategy for eradicating shame or nurturing more informed and empowered relationships with ourselves and each other. You may not be conscious of it, but over time, they can discourage self acceptance and reinforce negative thinking.
"Feminine hygiene" doesn’t conceal periods; we all know what it means. But when we defend the term as status quo, or cling to it to avoid speaking plainly about menstruation, it can have the effect of further reifying periods as taboo or inappropriate to discuss. The culture of silence this feeds directly contributes to broader public health concerns.
Changing the name of a section in a drugstore, or the way a tampon company refers to its products, won't be the final blow that ends menstrual stigma - but it will send a powerful message that periods are normal, okay to talk about, and don’t need to be hidden.
Feminine hygiene was never not a problematic phrase. But in 2017, it feels like a dinosaur walking among us.
It’s rooted in outdated, binary assumptions about sex and gender that uphold cisnormativity by centering cis bodies as natural, while simultaneously classifying cis women + trans and nonbinary people who menstruate as unnatural or inherently flawed. That’s like quadruple the patriarchy.
Because "feminine" means "female" and "woman" in this context, it can be argued that "feminine hygiene" sends a reductive and objectifying message — to trans & cis women alike — that womanhood is defined by genitals and reproductive capabilities.
Trans men and nonbinary folks who have periods shouldn't have to contend with the same invalidating messages, or feel forced into a label that doesn’t represent us either. Having to go into an aisle or purchase products labeled "feminine hygiene" can be acutely alienating and emotionally difficult for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people for whom menstrual products are a basic necessity. This kind of experience is really representative of other barriers trans and nonbinary people face in a world that’s not designed to accommodate the complexity of our bodies and identities.
Calling menstrual care products "feminine hygiene" may seem like small potatoes, but the implications behind it - that the functions of your body determine your gender and who you are - can lead to trans people avoiding doctors who may not understand their health needs, or being denied service outright when they do try to access medical care.
After the passage of the 1873 Comstock Act in the United States, which made it a federal crime to distribute or sell conception-related materials, the birth control industry coined the term "feminine hygiene" to re-brand their products.
Over time, this term evolved to refer to menstrual products instead, starkly illustrating how products and services related to birth, birth control, and menstruation have historically (and to this day) been contested and controlled. Feminine hygiene went from describing something that was actually illegal, to describing something that’s sometimes treated as though it practically should be - hidden from sight and segregated to its own private aisle.
TARGET'S PATH TO INCLUSION
Recently, a request was posted on Target’s Facebook Page (shoutouts to Rae and the Campaign to Degender Menstruation Facebook group) asking that they consider changing the category description on their website from Feminine Products to Menstrual or Period Products. Given Target's history, it's not unfathomable they'd consider making this change.
In 2015, Target started phasing out gender-specific product categories and switching to gender-neutral displays, saying "we never want guests or their families to feel frustrated or limited by the way things are presented".
A year later, Target issued a Stand for Inclusivity statement in response to legislative proposals mandating that transgender people use the restroom that reflects what’s listed on their birth certificate, rather than that which corresponds with their gender. In the statement, Target reaffirmed their support of the Federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBTQ folks and opposes action that enables discrimination.
They further demonstrated their commitment to inclusion by explicitly welcoming transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room that works for them.
I support Rae’s request 100% and hope Target will continue their inclusion efforts by introducing gender-neutral, non-euphemistic labeling of menstrual products in their stores. Other companies and brands should do the same, and I encourage anyone who cares about this issue to speak up about the changes they want to see. Even if you're initially dismissed or met with resistance, know that your voice matters, and that together we're laying the groundwork for progress to come.
Update: Unfortunately, Rae's request was removed from Target's Facebook page shortly after this post was published. I contacted Target's social media team for comment but didn't get a response. It's frustrating and disappointing, but it's also par for the course for those of us working to build a more inclusive menstrual health space. Cis folks, we need you to take up the fight too - please support your trans & nonbinary friends who are trying to carve out some space in this world for themselves & each other.RELATED ARTICLES
- Period Emojis: Destigmatizing Periods or Just More Coded Language?
- Lunapads for All Genders, All Bodies
- Why Inclusion Matters