Every year, Her Campus at Point Park hosts an event on campus called PMStival. This event is meant to erase the stigma around periods and menstruation, and provide resources as well as prizes and entertainment for students centered around periods. This event is a great way for those who have periods (or those who just want to have some free food) to come out and have some fun relating to a part of people’s lives that isn’t usually very fun at all. However, in past years, this event has caused controversy on campus.
In past years, this event has been framed as a celebration of womanhood. But Her Campus PPU is moving away from centering this event around women. Although there are many women that menstruate, not all women do. An important shift has been taking place in the way that people talk about periods in order to make things more inclusive for everyone that has periods. This includes trans men, nonbinary, gender-fluid, gender neutral, and other people that do not fit into the gender binary. This also is important for women or those who have vaginas that do not have periods. Making periods about “becoming a woman” can make those who don’t have periods feel like they’re broken or not enough of a woman. And, as an organization that works to uplift all women, as well as those who aren’t women such as nonbinary and trans people, being purposeful and intentional with the language that we use to discuss periods is really important.
I also want to address that this isn’t a thought that only our current members have had. Our gender and sexuality spectrum alliance (GSSA) club at Point Park University pointed out these problems years ago. The fact that people that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, including trans and gender-non-conforming people, have called us out for our centering of women in a period-related event in the past and this problem was not immediately rectified to include students that were feeling excluded is embarrassing.
According to a National School Climate Study done by GLSTN, 80 percent of trans students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression. It also showed that anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and discrimination negatively affect the GPA, education aspirations, and self-esteem of students affected. This shows that it is extremely important for student leaders to ensure that trans students don’t just feel tolerated; they feel actively accepted into the university atmosphere.
Her Campus Point Park is taking steps to make PMStival an accepting environment this year for all students. Wondering how you can take steps to be more inclusive when talking about periods? Here are some wonderful tips on simple changes you can make that make a big difference:
1. Recognize that reusable period products aren’t realistic for everyone
Reusable period products like cloth pads and menstrual cups are a great way for those with access to them to both cut down on their waste and save money in the long run. However, not everyone can use them. Some people, although it would save them money in the long run, simply do not have enough disposable income at one time to spend on a $35 menstrual cup or cloth pads. For some people, that would be a large chunk of a single paycheck that could go towards more urgent things such as food or bills. Also, some people that are experiencing housing insecurity or unstable living conditions may not always have the means to safely use these products. For example, they may not have access to boiling water to sanitize a menstrual cup, or a washing machine to consistently wash a cloth pad or period underwear. It may be more cost-efficient and sanitary for those without class privilege to use disposable period products.
2. Refer to people that have periods as just that— “people who have periods”
When you want to talk about someone that has a period, just say “someone that has a period.” Although it may be easier to say “women” or “vagina-owners,” those statements aren’t always true and can be harmful. Some people, like trans men and nonbinary people, have periods but are not women. Some people that have vaginas may not necessarily have periods, like those who have had hysterectomies or those who have other medical conditions that prevent them from having periods. Not only does this quick change in language include more people, but it also makes whatever you are talking about more accurate.
3. Understand that not everyone has a good relationship with their period
For some people, periods can not just be uncomfortable, but genuinely triggering. For some trans people that have periods, it can trigger gender dysphoria because having a period doesn’t line up with their gender expression. For others, like people that have had miscarriages or have experienced sexual assault, periods can bring them back to a place they don’t like to revisit. It’s very beneficial to be understanding towards those who have periods and don’t feel comfortable talking about it or engaging in period positivity discourse. Period positivity is important and necessary, but stray away from shaming people that get uncomfortable talking about menstruation because you never know their relationship to it.
Hopefully this short guide is helpful in making the people around you that have periods more comfortable. Never be afraid to correct organizations on campus that you think could be doing a better job at being inclusive; and, if you're a student leader, make sure you are hearing the concerns of those that correct you.