Not everyone who menstruates is a woman and not all women menstruate.
When I experienced my first period, the world around me said I was ‘becoming a woman’. As a cisgender woman, my peers, parents and surrounding pop culture confirmed this. Now (many, many periods later) I realise that this could not be more wrong.
Freedom4Girls is a charity that not only supports girls but any person who menstruates. Our battle to alleviate those suffering from period poverty and shame is not gender specific. When discussing these highly important issues, it is crucial to use inclusive language. Unsure of where to start? Here’s an introduction to inclusive language and its importance.
Not everyone who experiences a period is a woman; it’s as simple as that. Our biological sex does not predetermine our gender expression or identity. To experience a period does not override a person’s connection or celebration of their gender identity. By not using inclusive language, we risk alienating those from accessing support, resources and medical advice around their periods.
Plenty of women don’t experience periods for reasons such as menopause, PCOS, weight fluctuations and other medical complications. Their womanhood is not changed by the absence of this process. Similarly, many people who do experience periods don’t identify with womanhood. Even the phrase ‘men will never have period’ is simply not true. For many trans men and trans-masculine people, menstruation is a part of their lived experience. It is a biological, not a gendered, process.
Breaking the link between menstruation and womanhood is a necessary labour, especially for cisgendered people like myself. Walk into any shop, public toilet or educational facility – periods are explicitly gendered. Period products covered in pink flowers and hearts stack the shelves in drugstores. Female toilets are the sole provider of menstrual products. Even as children being taught sex education, young girls are taught about menstruation in isolation. Everywhere we look, many menstruators are being isolated from the conversation.
Guide to usage
Although this message is ingrained, it is simple to use language that includes everyone in the conversation. Instead of feminine hygiene products you can just say menstrual products or period products. You could even just refer to it as a tampon or pad – there’s no shame in referring to the products plainly! Instead of exclusively using girls or women who have periods, you can simply say “people who menstruate” or “menstruators”. Period euphemisms do nothing but cause shame around a very natural process. They’re also heavily gendered. Drop ‘aunt flow’ or ‘a woman’s monthlies’ and be frank. Periods are healthy and natural – you can use them by their real names!
Remember that your words should also match your actions. Never assume who does or doesn’t experience a period. People’s experiences with their bodies are private. For some, the experience of menstruation may trigger gender dysphoria or may be sensitive to them personally. Just because you sense that someone you know may experience menstruation, it doesn’t mean they do. If you do make a mistake, simply correct yourself and move on. Keep it simple; keep inclusive.
This useful table from Bloody Good Period is a great reference point!
This article marks the beginning of a conversation but definitely not the end. As someone who has never struggled with their gender identity, I do not have lived experience with a lot of the topics discussed here. Myself and others at Freedom4Girls are making active efforts to learn and grow. If you have read something in this article you wish to discuss, correct or expand upon please do contact us! You are very welcome in our little corner of the world where we are dedicated to providing period freedoms for anyone who menstruates.
Article by guest blogger, Ella Baynes