Read the title twice. This menstrual hygiene day, let’s focus on ‘people with periods’.
A menstrual product is almost always co-related with a cis-gender woman. Sanitary pads, menstrual cups, tampons, reusable pads, period underwears, you name it – every single menstrual product has a face of a cis-gender woman associated with it. This is wrong.
Not all who have periods are women
Historically, we have associated menstruation with a woman’s body and a symbol of ‘womanhood’ aka ‘Mol, valliya kutti aayi’. This association erases the experience of transgender, genderqueer, intersex people, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people.
This narrative becomes problematic for people with different gender identities. It becomes a source of emotional trauma, social exclusion, gender dysphoria, and even lack of access to menstrual healthcare. This has a lot to do with our cultural definition of menstruation, and it being ‘a woman’s issue’.
Take the experience of a transgender man, a person whose sex assigned at birth was female but whose gender identity is male. When he experiences periods, he feels disassociated with his body because it goes against what he identifies with. It’s a battle between his identity of his body and what society perceives his body to be.
Similarly, take the experience of a transgender woman, a person whose sex assigned at birth was male but whose gender identity is female. If she does not get her periods, she might not feel like a complete woman.
In some cases, people might not even bleed and just experience the symptoms leading to periods.
Period itself is a taboo for cis-gender women. So, imagine how it would affect different gender identities?
Not all women have periods
We have gendered menstruation. So much that, we only know of a one-sided menstrual experience, which is that of, a cis-gender woman’s experience. When you consider menstruation as only a woman’s experience, it can be problematic and traumatising for cis-gender women who have health issues, and therefore, can’t menstruate.
Consequently, when we reduce menstruation to womanhood, we promote the idea that a woman’s purpose in life is to reproduce.
Media Representation of Periods
Take any Indian advertisements that promote any menstrual product. You see that cis-gender women are the faces of menstruation. The more we reinforce that only women go through menstruation, the more we normalise it and create societally and culturally enforced anxiety for people with different identities.
Using terms like ‘menstruating woman’, and labelling menstrual products as ‘woman products’, ‘feminine hygiene products’ and ‘women’s health care’ restricts menstrual hygiene only for a certain section of people. For people who don’t fit the traditional labels of masculine or feminine, cis-oriented advertisements that promote menstrual products make them feel excluded. It becomes difficult for them to access menstrual and reproductive healthcare. In the worst case, they might fall victim to gendered violence.
How Do We Go About Degendering Menstruation?
Do not equate menstruation to women only. Instead, use ‘menstruator’ or ‘menstruating people’ to describe a person who is menstruating. It is a gender-neutral and inclusive term.
We need to urge companies that sell menstrual products to be more inclusive in the language they use. In addition to that, they should also be conscious of the social-constructed, stereotypical behaviours they promote. The packaging of many menstrual products itself is gendered – the usage of ‘feminine features’, colours, and language. So, let’s stop pretending that cis-women are the only ones who menstruate.
No one should feel excluded or unsafe to talk about their period experience. Everyone deserves to be safe, have access and feel comfortable when they are menstruating, regardless of their gender. Let’s use this knowledge to learn more about how we can be more understanding of people with periods, and educate others about it too.
This Menstrual Hygiene Day, let’s take the responsibility of degengdering menstruation so that everyone who bleeds is given the respect they deserve.