Procter & Gamble Co. recently announced it will be removing the Venus symbol, used typically to represent women, from the packaging and wrappers on its popular sanitary product brand, Always. Spokespersons for Always announced this change comes from a changing world in which they wish to be more inclusive of transgender men and non-binary individuals who use their products. The change reportedly comes from Always assessing their consumer feedback and continuously updating their brand, products, and packaging in order to better serve their consumers. This has sparked major controversy across the entire internet, specifically from right-leaning and conservative media outlets. I thought about it, I looked at my own sanitary products from Always, and realized, where the heck even is this allusive Venus symbol? Well, the Venus symbol was only added to Always packages earlier this year. So, this isn’t a common thing seen on products, to begin with. The addition of the Venus symbol was apparently so insignificant that no one talked about it, but now everyone is complaining about its removal.
So what is the big deal? What is everyone up in arms about? Well, there’s an argument that menstruation and the ability to become pregnant are behaviors only (implied: real) women get to take part in. A girl’s first period is her stamp of approval into womanhood. It’s a time for celebration. What if after getting her first period, this girl went up to her mother and confessed she wasn’t a girl, but a boy? He expressed wanting to use he/his pronouns and a more masculine name to match the way he was feeling on the inside, but he was still menstruating. What is he to do about that? He still requires pads and tampons, but those are deemed “feminine products” with colors, symbols, and fonts on the packaging to get across the implicit message: FOR WOMEN.
Many cisgender people (i.e., those who’s assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity) do not have to experience this discordance between how you feel and how your body is perceived/portrayed by everyone else. This discordance is also known as gender dysphoria. When trans folk (i.e., an umbrella term for anyone who is not cisgender) have experiences that don’t align with their gender identity, this is gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria can be brought on by being misgendered (i.e., a trans man being called “she” or “ma’am” in public) or may not have a specific trigger. Many trans men express their monthly menstruation as a time of severe gender dysphoria, however. It is a routine reminder that their body does not match how they feel. This discomfort that can range from mild to severe is a feeling many, if not all, cisgender people will never fully understand.
Based on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of transgender individuals report attempting suicide at least once in their lifetime. Read that again. Forty-one percent. Think about it. FORTY-ONE PERCENT of transgender individuals will make an attempt on their own life. Compare that number to 0.6% of total adults, and there is a clear discrepancy in the mental health between adults overall and the transgender community in specific. Although suicidal ideation is a symptom of multiple mental illnesses, the way society treats individuals it deems different or bad or weird does not help. By Always being aware of what their brand represents and who their brand caters to, they are telling transgender men and non-binary individuals they are seen, they are heard, and they matter. However, by being inclusive of their diverse consumers, Always is not, I repeat NOT, excluding cisgender women. This moment of inclusivity is not to discriminate or oppress cisgender women. I will put it point-blank: cisgender women, me included, this is not about you.
It is not just “women” who can do these things. Many cisgender women do not even menstruate due to a variety of reasons including hormonal disorders, birth control, and eating disorders. Their lack of menstruation does not automatically make them not a woman. A cisgender woman who chooses to undergo a hysterectomy (surgical removal of a uterus) for cancer prevention would not be assumed to not be a woman because no longer menstruates. It’s a functioning, healthy uterus and ovaries that do these things. And a functioning, healthy uterus and ovaries can be found inside the body of a person identifying as a man. Sex and gender are no longer synonymous, and they have not been for a while. If that’s where we are disagreeing, please see my previous article on Differentiating Sex and Gender. There are so many more strides society needs to take in order to make the world safer and more inclusive for trans folk, and Always is taking a step in the right direction.
With a lot of cisgender opinions getting thrown around, I talked to a close friend who is a transgender man to get his take on the situation to round out my feelings about the situation. A month or so ago, we had a very enlightening, and in hindsight timely, conversation about menstruation and the gender dysphoria that surrounds it. He acknowledges what Always is doing as a brand to become more inclusive, although more needs to be done. It’s not the Venus symbol that bothers him, he says, but the entirety of the packing. From the color to the patterns and the language used, it’s sending an overwhelming implicit message. As a cisgender woman, I have never thought twice about the packaging on my pads and tampons. Was it fun to look at? Sure. But, did I choose products based on how fun their design was? No, it was about the product itself. I rarely considered how this could negatively affect someone dealing with gender dysphoria. I think that is where this entire issue lies; people rarely considering what it is like to live someone else’s life. To live their discomforts and their pain. Being transgender is not a new concept by any means, but many cisgender people choose to not think deeply about this community due to their own discomfort and stigma towards people unlike themselves.