This is why gender-neutral sanitary pads are not "eliminating women"
Recently, the makers of Always sanitary pads decided to remove the "Venus" symbol from their packaging, in an effort to make their products more gender-neutral.
Predictably, not everyone was happy, with writer Julie Bindel accusing Always of 'eliminating women'. Here—from my perspective, as a cisgender woman—is why those people are idiots.
Periods. Lots of us have them. They suck. Mood swings, cramp, gas, constipation and/or diarrhoea; sometimes it honestly does genuinely feel like God is trying to punish women—and trans men, and anyone else who gets periods—for something, regardless of whether or not some girl called Eve had a craving for apples six thousand years ago.
Except... "women, and trans men, anyone else who gets periods"... oops. Maybe I shouldn't have said that? Not according to Julie Bindel, anyway.
— Julie Bindel (@bindelj) October 21, 2019
Most women, as we pretty much all know, have periods, and since a lot of us use Always products, it makes sense that Always—and Proctor and Gamble, who own the brand—have taken care to market themselves as a champion of women and girls. Presumably, it was in this spirit that they added the "Venus" symbol, basically a universal shorthand for all things female, to the packaging on their sanitary pads.
In March of this year, Twitter users started raising concerns about this, on the really quite reasonable grounds that many transgender men and some non-binary people have periods and use sanitary pads, and understandably felt a bit weird and uncomfortable buying sanitary products with an exclusively female symbol stamped onto the wrapping.
This, by the way, is kind of salt in the already-gaping wound for those in the trans community who would give anything not to need sanitary pads in the first place. As activist Kenny Ethan Jones puts it, 'having periods caused my mental health to spiral to a new low – a place where no 15-year-old should be. Being a transgender man having a bodily function that was solely associated with cis-gender women was torture.'
In June, activist Ben Saunders—a trans man, who was recently named Stonewall's Young Campaigner of the Year in May—contacted Always expressing similar concerns. After presumably a lot of discussions and consideration within the company, Always got back in touch with Saunders, informing him that they had made the decision to remove the Venus symbol from their packaging.
Not all heroes wear capes...
— 𝕯𝖊𝖆𝖉𝖑𝖞 𝕷𝖎𝖙𝖙𝖑𝖊 𝕸𝖎𝖍𝖔 (@tiz_i_) October 18, 2019
Predictably, Twitter exploded; users started calls to #BoycottAlways, the Daily Mail shouted to their readers that Saunders and his fellow activists had "forced" Always to "kowtow to transgender activists born female" (spoiler: they hadn't), and "feminist" writers such as Bindel opened their laptops and got to work. Incidentally, maybe now isn't the right time to point out that a real feminist should support all women, cis and trans—since we are mostly talking about trans men here—but Bindel's desire to stress throughout her article that trans women are 'natal males', and that 'we are now bullied into saying that they are real women'. But they are not', make it pretty obvious what she thinks of them. Plus, another woman angry about the decision was Maya Forstater, who was booted out of her job as a think tank tax expert for tweeting things like 'when men wear make-up, heels, dresses they don't become women'. (Actually, she's right there—when men wear make-up, they don't become women. But when trans women wear make-up, high heels and dresses, well, they were already women, now they're women wearing makeup and gorgeous dresses. When trans men put on dresses and heels they don't become women, either. Cool, right?) What was both funny and depressing, actually, were the number of people—mostly in Always' Twitter replies—who can't seem to tell the difference between trans men and trans women, and tweeted nonsensical rubbish like this:
I will not be buying your pads anymore it's an absolute slap in my face and in the face of real women who were born this way who actually have pain, mood swings and blood flowing out of them every month to be inclusive of what? A man who decides to be a woman and as no experience
— Islandtulip (@sheensjeans) October 22, 2019
Right, who's going to explain to this girl that those she's labelling "men who decide to be women and have no experience" (I'm guessing she means trans women) were probably born with male reproductive systems and don't get periods? No, I can't be bothered either.
Then there's this delightful gem:
No longer a customer. Guess what, trans men don’t have periods. Trans men don’t have a say so on products that will help biological women. They have no clue what women deal with on a monthly basis. Bye bye Always products 👋
— TMKrasner (@TKrasner) October 22, 2019
Um... "trans men don't have periods"? Jones (see above) and Saunders would beg to differ, as would Jaimie Raines, who spends three minutes and eleven seconds of the video below talking about his experiences. Having periods. As a trans man.
This isn't a declaration of undying love for Always, by the way—like every business, they've got their flaws. Changing their packaging, to be more inclusive of their non-female customers, is great- but they haven't extended this inclusivity to places like their Twitter account. They could (for example) acknowledge, in their tweets campaigning to #EndPeriodPoverty, that low-income trans people (with uteruses) also suffer from being unable to afford sanitary products. Wouldn't changing that be braver than changing their packaging to remove a symbol that lots of customers hadn't even noticed until this all blew up? Yet their social media output remains exclusively (cis) female—not that this has stopped angry replies to such tweets like the ones we just saw.
I absolutely appreciate everything y'all do, but you need to stop using only female pronouns and terms. Not every woman has a period, and not only women get a period.
You need to care about EVERYONE who deals with this.
— YoureLookingAtNow (@nowwhohasit) October 3, 2019
And in other countries, they've been accused of doing something far worse than sticking a subtly exclusionary symbol on their packaging. Pad users from Kenya to Pakistan have been using the hashtag #MyAlwaysExperience to allege that Always pads sold in their country are substandard, causing itching, burning, rashes and even vaginal infections. Always have denied the claims, noting that such skin irritation can be due to a variety of factors, but the sheer number of people drawing attention to the fact that there might be a problem should be enough to warrant a decent investigation. Perhaps if more Western feminists used their platforms to raise awareness of problems like this, rather than throwing a fit over gender-neutral packaging, we'd actually see a marked improvement in women's rights on a global level.
The pads they sell in the West are very different from the ones they sell in Africa. I’ve used both. They save their substandard products for the African market knowing they’d be sued to bankruptcy if they tried this in America. #MyAlwaysExperience https://t.co/xscQyUXmeQ
— Airhorn Ren (@AirhornRen) October 21, 2019
If you want to vote with your wallet for some positive change—and if you can afford it, either switch to a brand that makes eco-friendly tampons and pads—as opposed to products like Always and Tampax's, which are made from non-biodegradable plastic and as such are seriously bad news for the environment—or ditch pads altogether and use a menstrual cup (which will save you money in the long run). My point is, there are valid issues to #BoycottAlways over, but their packaging design isn't one of them.
So, if any of those poor, bamboozled biological women are reading this article and if you're still upset about the Venus symbol's tragic demise, allow me to give you a quick reality check.
Always, in making this change, are not "eliminating women".
They are not denying cis women's existence, or the issues that we face, or the utter hell that menstruation puts us through each month. They are not saying that trans men, or non-binary people with uteruses, are more important than women. This is about equality and inclusion, about acknowledging that periods affect other people as well as, not instead of, cis women. The rights that we've spent centuries fighting for are not going to be eroded away, and my position as a woman is not going to be made any worse by a packaging design that targets all customers, not just the female ones. This isn't destroying women's rights any more than the legalisation of same-sex marriage is "destroying" marriage for heterosexual couples.
If you want to stand up for women's rights then, from the "tampon tax" VAT on sanitary products in the UK (because they're still "luxury items" apparently) to the fact that women in Saudi Arabia still need permission from a male "guardian" to do just about everything. There are sadly still way too many problems to choose from, and they are all far more important, and far more damaging, than the fact that your sanitary pads will no longer have a Venus symbol on them.