The concepts of gender and sexuality are evolving at a decent pace to make the world more gender-fluid. Yet, the topic of ‘menstruation’ is still fraught with cissexism – or the discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals.
The language we use is important
People usually tend to use the words women and girls when talking about periods. The use of gendered language when discussing periods can be harmful because it reinforces the false idea that menstruation equals women. This inevitably excludes individuals who do not identify as women, including trans men, non-binary folx, gender fluid, and intersex people. This can also isolate individuals who identify as a woman but do not menstruate.
There’s a broad spectrum of those who menstruate
Navigating periods when all information, marketing, packaging, products, and discussions are targeted towards women exclusively can make people who do not fit within the common definition of “women” become easily isolated, marginalized, stigmatized, and discriminated against. When health care issues are gendered, it can further prevent trans and gender non-conforming from accessing essential information and resources to manage their health. Periods can also be a source of gender dysphoria for many who experience periods but do not identify as women or girls. Associating menstruation with womanhood can make them feel dysphoric about their bodies and struggle with how they see themselves.
A woman is more than her anatomy
Menstruation being rooted in the idea of womanhood is also harmful to women who cannot menstruate. Cisgender women can sometimes not experience menstruation – a condition known as amenorrhoea, which can be attributed to a range of multiple factors such as low body weight, mental stress, excessive exercise, eating disorders such as anorexia, birth control, and hormonal imbalance (Polycystic ovary syndrome or thyroid malfunction) to list a few. It can also be due to menopause (the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles). Considering menstruation as a girl’s or a woman’s only issue can make them feel as if they are not a ‘real woman’ or ‘woman enough’, which is of course a false narrative. To be identified as a woman, you do not have to have a period, a uterus, or even ovaries for that matter.
What does gender-inclusive language look like?
It is about time that we move past the idea that periods are rooted exclusively in “womanhood” rather than an experience that can be highly variable, and mean different things to different people. Dismantling this narrative starts with adjusting the way we talk about periods. It can be done by making simple changes in our everyday language surrounding menstruation. You should avoid using the words “women” or “girls” exclusively when discussing periods. Instead, you could use language like: “People who menstruate”, “people who have periods”, or “menstruators’’. Despite referring to products as “feminine hygiene products” or “women’s health” products, we can say “menstrual products” or “period products”. You can also use the names for the specific products you are referring to, such as “pads”, “tampons”, “liners”, “menstrual cups”, etc.
Changing narratives and promoting inclusion
Using more inclusive language can make those that do not identify as women feel more included in menstruation narratives and create more dialogues about the experience of periods from people with different gender identities. It can also help dismantle cultures of shame and misinformation surrounding menstruation that has been around for thousands of years.
Menstruation does not have to be assigned gender and the language we use is important. As the world is evolving to be more gender-fluid, the language around menstruation has to evolve to become more gender-neutral and inclusive too. It is important to remember that – not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women.