Why We Say ‘Menstrual Care’ Instead of ‘Feminine Hygiene’

Females aren’t the only group of people who have periods. Period.

hand removing tampon from a box

Acknowledging this truth is the first step to becoming more inclusionary, whether you’re an individual or a corporation speaking about menstruation. “Feminine hygiene” simply is not inclusive language. It doesn’t account for trans people or non-binary people who have periods.

Transgender guys can have periods. Non-binary people can have periods. It’s not just women, and to think as such is small-minded.

If you aren’t sure what exactly it means to be transgender or non-binary, we’ll give you a quick rundown. Being non-binary means that someone doesn’t identify with being either male or female. Other terms you might hear are “genderqueer” or “agender.” Oftentimes, these people will choose to use the pronouns “they/them” versus “she/her” or “he/him.” Being transgender (or trans, for short) means someone identifies with a gender different than the sex they were born as.

Now, anyone who was born with a vagina, uterus and ovaries can experience menstruation. This fact means a non-binary person with a vagina can have a period, and a trans guy with a vagina can have a period, too.

Periods in general are still pretty taboo in some ways, even for cisgender women. When it comes to talking about periods being had by genders other than female, it can be extra hard for some people to wrap their heads around the concept.

It isn’t just a matter of male or female.

That’s why we need to speak more openly about periods in general and be more understanding of various gender identities. Gender isn’t — and never has been — black and white. It isn’t just a matter of male or female. There’s a lot more to it. And as we know, the sex someone is born as doesn’t determine their gender later in life.

Labeling periods as a biological phenomenon that’s just for girls can be damaging for those people who have periods and don’t identify as female. It’s not too late to open our minds even further and help to make a difference in trans and non-binary peoples’ lives.

For FTM (that’s female to male) trans guys or non-binary people, periods can trigger dysphoria that, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” As you can imagine, heading to the store to buy pads or tampons in the “feminine hygiene” or “feminine care” section really doesn’t help.

“My period doesn’t directly cause dysphoria for me, but the language surrounding it does,” said Bee C., 24, who identifies as transmasculine non-binary. “My gender identity is fluid and lies somewhere between androgyny and masculinity. I am a guy. I use they/them or he/him.”

As for the language surrounding periods, he said, “It’s invalidating to me. I typically feel seen by the same people until we’re talking about healthcare and menstruation. I see a lot of cis allies make adjustments to use inclusive language, but stop short of menstruation.”

He has another great point to make as well, which we totally agree with.

“Referring to it as ‘feminine hygiene’ or ‘feminine products’ is exclusive language. It’s also almost prudish, like we are afraid to say ‘menstruation,’ like it’s some gross dirty word. Saying menstrual products, menstruators, menstrual care, people with vulvas, people with periods…it’s not hard to do.”

We also spoke with 26 year old Rowan Ramona, who is an advocate for speaking up about menstruation and endometriosis as an agender person.

“I think one of the reasons companies call it ‘feminine hygiene’ is because there’s still a big taboo around talking about periods and this taboo is rooted in misogyny,” they said. “It would be very easy to call it ‘menstrual hygiene’ or ‘gynaecological hygiene’ without the gender inclusion argument even coming into it, but I genuinely think companies are afraid to market their products using those terms in order to cater to the comfort of cisgender men.”

“Marketing of sanitary wear isn’t the only area of menstrual and gynaecological health that excludes trans and nonbinary people. There is a huge problem within the healthcare system surrounding gender and even sexual and romantic orientations. For example, I have very aggressive endometriosis so I’m in hospital quite frequently. I am reminded every time I go to the hospital that I will be never be seen as anything other than female for having this disease.”

When we start to really look at periods without all the feminine language and marketing, it will make periods more bearable for people with periods who don’t identify as female. This attitude will also validate non-binary folks or trans guys who have health problems that are seen as inherently female, such as endometriosis.

“With all these things going on for non-females in the world of menstrual health, you’d think marketing and labels of sanitary products would be irrelevant, but it’s a classic case of little things making a big difference to people like myself. I see it as an act of solidarity with us,” Rowan said. “Small changes made by one company can also lead to more companies making the same changes. If enough companies start to change, then this can lead to a more widespread societal change in the language we use.”

Calling it “menstrual care” is a super easy way to change the language to be more inclusive and validate the experiences that trans and non-binary people have with periods. And no, it’s not a dig against cisgender women.

“It’s not that the trans and nonbinary community are attempting to erase cisgender women, but rather we are asking for them to stop erasing us,” Rowan explained. “We want solidarity with cisgender women, and if they want the same, then changing their language around menstrual health is a great place to start.”

Given these issues, we felt it was important for us to call our new line of menstrual care products “menstrual care” rather than “feminine hygiene.” Our branding is also very simplistic and gender neutral — none of the stereotypical “girly” pink colors on our packaging. We’ve also chosen to use the word “care” instead of “hygiene” to minimize the preexisting stigma that periods are dirty or icky (newsflash: they’re not!).

So next time you’re talking about periods or menstrual care products, try to be a little more mindful of the language you’re using. Simply changing up a few words that you use can make a big difference and help people feel much more included and validated.

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