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we're *finally* calling BULL on the term feminine hygiene

Culture

5th May 2021

Take a walk through the aisles of your local supermarket or peek into your nearest Boots and there, loud and clear are the words ‘Feminine Hygiene’. What should sit underneath this ridiculous sign? Nothing. What does sit underneath this ridiculous sign? Tampons, pads and menstrual cups that have been branded in pink daisies, soft pastels or patronizing fluorescents. We’re calling bull.

Let’s break down the term ‘Feminine Hygiene’, starting with the first half.

Feminine: “Having characteristics that are traditionally thought to be suitable for a woman.” And things that society equates to the word ‘feminine’: ‘dainty’, ‘sweet’, ‘discreet’.

This choice of language to describe menstruation is problematic, and just not cool. Not only does it offend cisgender women by suggesting how they should behave, it also automatically excludes any individual that does not identify as ‘female’. It’s naïve (or possibly just plain ignorant) for companies to assert the assumption that ‘only women bleed’, further adding to the misunderstandings and stigmatisation that gender-neutral, intersex, non-binary or transgender individuals face on the daily. We also need to acknowledge those who may want to, need to, or feel they should bleed but cannot. By calling reproductive health products ‘feminine’, we suggest that those who do not menstruate are not ‘female’ enough. We’re alienating anyone that is not a menstruating cisgender women and it’s time for change. As DeVuyst (the New York based model, artist and actor who was the first transgender man to feature in period product advertising) nicely summed up:

“The existence of a period doesn’t make someone any more or less feminine, or any more or less female.” Some humans bleed. Gender is irrelevant. Period.

On to the latter part of the word: ‘hygiene’. I mean, really? How have we come this far yet still use a word that implies that there is something inherently dirty about menstruation? We use period products because free bleeding is normally bloody annoying and uncomfortable, not because bleeding is dirty, not because it is shameful.

So *mainstream* retail stores, if you insist on labeling tampons as ‘feminine hygiene’ products, we’ll also expect you to start alienating, stigmatizing and obsolete re-labeling other products. ‘Masculine protection’, ‘pit sanitation’ and ‘Adolescent Acne Care’. Alternatively, get over (and stop adding to) the taboo and start respecting menstruation. Calling them ‘Menstrual Products’ would be a good place to start.

image credit @ashleygraham

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