Always (a Proctor & Gamble brand) announced this week that they are removing the Venus/Female symbol from their menstrual products in response to a request from trans and non-binary consumers like Ben Saunders. Predictably, the backlash was instantaneous. The New York Times and CBS News already have articles up about it, an Insider reporter interviewed me this afternoon for an article on the topic which is what prompted me to write my thoughts here while the conversation is happening.
Why is this topic important to me? I’m a licensed midwife and I’m trained in well body care, sexual and reproductive wellness, and prenatal and childbirth care – all across the gender spectrum. Inclusive healthcare is especially important to me because as a trans person myself, I’ve had poor experiences with healthcare providers and I want better alternatives for healthcare options than what I experienced as a consumer.
As a medical care provider, I can confirm that women are not the only people who have periods. Many trans men have periods. Many non-binary people have periods. Many intersex people have periods (including some who were assigned male at birth). To us, this move by Proctor and Gamble matters in a tangible way. It’s one less thing in the aisle of visually assaulting super gendered products. For cis women, I can’t see that it makes much difference to their experience at all. It’s not like the symbol has been replaced with something that excludes them, there are no male or non-binary symbols on the packaging. Now it’s for everybody. Cis women, men, non-binary folks… people with periods.
Dysphoria is a powerful and distressing feeling that can be incredibly overwhelming, a feeling of discomfort and incongruence that can trigger anxiety and depression. MANY transgender people experience it, though not all of them. Societally gendered experiences like menstruating can contribute to dysphoria, particularly when the products you’re using are reiterating that gendered message. Cis women will not experience dysphoria when using a product that doesn’t explicitly scream WOMAN on the packaging.
I find the commentary I’m seeing online about Proctor & Gamble being forced to do anything rather absurd. Ben Saunders and a number of other trans activists ask companies like Always to make change, but the company made this call for themselves. No one forced them to do anything. There is no powerful transgender lobby (ha!) with money and influence, pushing companies into these changes – these are just individuals personally affected by these things reaching out and asking a company to make a better choice. It’s not nefarious, it’s human. It’s a good business decision, ethics aside, and that’s probably a large part of the reason why P&G made the call. Statistics show that younger people (particularly Generation Z) are dramatically more inclusive and open to the spectrum of gender identities. Those same young people make up a large portion of the market and will be an even larger factor moving forward, while Baby Boomers move towards no longer being a part of this particular market as they reach menopause. I’m quite sure their marketing team considered that reality before making a decision, but I still appreciate that the decision will help trans people.
There’s one more thing we need to talk about. Every time a trans related topic comes up in the news, I see a backlash from the public towards trans women, including in this case where trans feminine people have nothing to do with the topic and it’s a move that was prompted by trans masculine folks. And yet nevertheless, it seems that’s the only picture of a trans person that the public has – a trans woman that they somehow see as a threat to cis women and to femininity as a whole which is really absurd. I want to make sure people understand that this is about people with periods being a spectrum of humanity – cis women, trans men, non-binary AFAB folks, intersex people… and those people simply wanting to not feel excluded and misgendered by the products they spend their money on.
Consumers have a right to ask the corporations that make the products they buy a better fit for them. That’s all this is, at the core. Asking for the products they buy to fit their needs better, without excluding anyone else’s needs. No one needs a venus/female symbol on their menstrual products.