blood and plastic: on periods, packaging and priorities

Still life with tampon

In the news in the last couple of days, you may have read about Procter & Gamble’s decision to remove the Venus symbol from their packaging because some transmasculine activists pointed out that not everyone who uses menstrual products is a woman. P&G’s official statement, quoted in the linked article, is a bit of a muddle, so I’m not sure they 100% get it. Still: a trans activist success!

… But. Predictably, some cis women are mad about this.

Is it a one-sock or a two-sock period?

Seriously though? You must find shopping awfully challenging what with the lack of ♀️ symbols on every package. How will you ever know if you can buy that quinoa / SUV / dish soap if it’s not gendered?! So complicated!

I mean I do understand though. Without that little ♀️ to guide me to the right product, I might end up stuffing my vag with Kleenex or toilet paper or, like, a sock or something. You just never know. When you’re having your moon time, the cosmic energies are SO unpredictable.

divacupAlso, like don’t freak out, but the Diva Cup… *deep breath*… doesn’t have a ♀️ on the package. And it comes in three sizes and one size has a PINK package and the other has a BLUE package and then there’s this random ORANGE one and like FUCK WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO. I cannot figure this OUT.

natracareAnnnd (fuck I’m so upset) I just checked my NatraCare tampon boxes and they also don’t have a ♀️. Shit, have I been doing this wrong all these years? ARE THEY NOT FOR ME?? How am I supposed to know?! Like… what do I do NOW? Use up my stock or throw it out? Maybe they’re only meant for nosebleeds! I don’t get nosebleeds! What a waste.

lunapadsK freaking out over here a little. I also just realized that reusable washable LunaPads ALSO don’t have a ♀️ and not only that but they sell menstrual underwear in a boxer brief style and have not-femme models on their website. And same with Thinx period underwear whose tag line is “for people with periods”—but what people??! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEEEEEANNN

sadfaceI need to go snuggle with my velvet vulva puppet in my red tent and do some deep breathing. See if I can find my gender identity* somewhere since Procter & Gamble have so heartlessly stolen my only dependable clues.
*JK, apparently I don’t get to even HAVE one now, WTF



… OK, in all seriousness now, this might be one of the more absurd “feminist” complaints I’ve ever seen. I’m going to date myself here, but—pull up a chair!—when I was at Concordia in the late ’90s, a group called the BloodSisters was doing super cool menstrual activism. They made zines. They stocked the Keeper, those old menstrual cups made of brown natural latex (this was before everyone was allergic to latex), in the vegan food co-op, which was open from like 3:00 to 3:45 p.m. every second Tuesday. Also sea sponges in Ziploc bags with little photocopied instructions. And handmade cloth pads in flower-patterned fabric with little snaps. And unbleached cotton tampons because the WHOLE fucking POINT was that giant corporations were putting toxic shit in your vagina and we should be exploring other, safer options.

Audrey II would have been SO into this.

Their zines taught me that you could empty your menstrual cup full of blood into a glass, fill the glass with water, and water your plants with it because blood water was natural fertilizer! (It was true, too. Or at least, my plants were pretty happy for a couple years in there.) They taught me not to be ashamed of bleeding, not to fall for corporate messaging about how vaginas smell bad and should smell like lilacs or petunias or whateverthefuck perfume they were embedding in pads and tampons (*shudder*) those days.

They taught me about raspberry leaf tea and orgasms for cramps. They taught me that tampon applicators were clogging beaches and killing wildlife and that the only point of them was to distance women from their vaginas and keep them afraid of their own natural menstrual blood.

They taught me that it was my right to take care of my menstrual needs in ways that DIDN’T DO HARM TO MY BODY in the name of corporate sanitization or harm to the environment in the name of plastic packaging. THAT was menstrual activism.

symbol 1Was it essentialist? Probably. Was it transphobic? Cis-centric, definitely; I don’t recall explicit transphobia but it may have been lurking or just less visible to me at the time. Was it perfect? Absolutely not!

But almost all the nearly unheard-of menstrual options they were advocating for then have grown to be easily accessible now. Even if your local drugstore doesn’t stock these options, you can get them online in like three clicks. But lots of places stock them, from the granola to the mainstream. This is a *gigantic* feminist success. And the companies that got their start in that era? Are not festooned with ♀️. In fact they’re the ones being like, oh hey, we should probably update our politics based on our expanded understanding of gender so that we can better serve everyone who menstruates.

The very idea that feminists would be like “oh please, major corporation, print your shamey blue-liquid-advertised bleached plastic-packaged feminine hygiene products with ♀️ so that I can feel properly respected as a WOMAN” just absolutely blows my mind. Like how did the last 20 years produce this chasm between people who value putting a range of menstrual options in the hands of whoever the hell needs them and people who are having a meltdown in the name of feminism because a giant corporation changes their package design.

This is some mind-bendingly backwards shit.

symbol 2And you know what gets even MORE fucked up? These same feminists who are all “Don’t steal my essential womanness with your graphic design decision” are… wait for it… mad at trans women. TRANS WOMEN. Who, generally speaking, do not menstruate. But you know who sometimes does menstruate? Trans men and non-binary people who have uteri and the hormonal makeup to create a menstrual period!

This particular activist endeavour was not by, for or really related to trans women at all. The fact that these nincompoops seem to jump straight to transmisogyny is verrry telling. It’s almost like the haters are looking for more reasons to hate trans women even when those reasons make no actual sense.

But of course, when cis women pretend they’re the only category of people that needs menstrual products, they’re delivering a magical one-two punch of transphobia, including both transmisogyny and the rhetorical erasure of trans men: their activism, their needs, their very bodies.

Just to make myself 100% clear: gendered packaging is bullshit whether it’s an evil corporation or not. I don’t personally care about P&G’s package design because I don’t touch their products BUT as a symbolic victory for transmasculine and non-binary folks, sure. Take it. The mainstream needs to change.

symbol 3And it’s not just a victory for trans men. When we move toward a less gender-binary world, where products (and everything else) that don’t need to be gendered aren’t (which, yanno, is most things), everybody wins. Beyond the oppressive factor of gendered rigidity, in such a world it would be a lot harder to impose the well-known pink tax—which means this movement represents a direct financial benefit to women, cis and trans, and to anyone else who uses products that are now marked up unfairly.

I have lots of opinions about menstrual products, but I’m not here to judge your choices, however mainstream or non-mainstream they may be. Just know you have many options, and take care of you the way you like best.

And as always, I invite transphobes to eat a bag of hair.

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