Why ‘Menstruator’ Should Be in Your Vocabulary

Gendered Language in “Feminine” Hygiene

We’ve long abandoned the term “feminine hygiene” when talking about our products. For one, “hygiene” implies that menstruation is unhygienic and requires special cleaning, bringing to mind sterile masks and latex gloves. Of course, this is probably what the makers of disposable products want you to think — that their products are medically sterile (not just bleached to look that way) — but that’s a whole ‘nother ball park. Today, let’s talk about the use of “feminine” for menstrual products.

For those not yet up to speed: biological sex does not equal gender. Despite what most of us learned growing up, male/boy and female/girl are not inextricably linked.

Biological sex is typically assigned at birth based on a brief visual inspection of external genitalia. Basically, a doctor looks between your legs and pronounces you “boy” (male) or “girl” (female). (Biological sex is actually WAY more complicated than this but again: another ballpark.)

Gender or gender expression is what you show to the world, and it’s socially constructed. “Socially constructed” is another way of saying “we made it up.” There is no real reason behind “girls wear pink” or “boys don’t cry” other than that we as a culture decided it. Crazy, right? Gender, in fact, is not black and white, but a whoooooole lot of gray.

Masculine and feminine are gendered terms we use to describe certain traits. Aggressive behavior and independence are often described as more masculine traits, while characteristics like emotional sensitivity or nurturing are associated with femininity. Your unique gender expression is made up of all the traits that comprise your personality and appearance, and though it has zero to do with biological sex, we’ve culturally ascribed and limited these traits to one of just two genders.

So, the male/boy/masculine and female/girl/feminine boxes our society made up? They don’t fit everyone! And being left out or told you don’t belong? That totally sucks.

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Here’s how menstruation gets involved: not everyone who is a woman (gender) menstruates (a biological process associated with certain reproductive parts). And not every person who menstruates is a woman, either.

You may have noticed us saying “menstruators” sometimes (despite spell-check consistently telling me it’s not a word). That’s us trying to make room for everyone, and, it’s what we truly mean. We are a small business offering reusable products for people who bleed. A lot of our customers identify as women. Some don’t. We try hard to be inclusive and connect with all of our customers, without excluding anyone. Sometimes we mess up.

We’re cautious about our language in the real world and in our blog and social media posts. I say “folks” a lot; others in the office say “individuals” or “people.” However, not all of our packaging or older content on our website yet reflects our careful language choices, and sometimes, we will use gendered language, when appropriate to do so (when the author, for instance, identifies as a woman and refers to herself as such). Last week we removed the word “women” from our mission statement. It now reads: Our mission is to provide high quality, sustainable products and positively transform the experience of menstruation.

It’s a process, un-learning the socially constructed rules of sex and gender.

Calling Out versus Calling In

Have you heard of “calling in”? This is my new favorite thing, and a wonderful tool to help others un-learn outdated social rules. The difference between calling out and calling in is this: calling out is usually about publicly shaming or blaming someone for messing up, e.g. “How dare you put my groceries in a plastic bag?! Polluter!” Calling in is about engaging in thoughtful discussion — welcoming the person in and offering them a new way to think about things, e.g. “I have a reusable grocery bag right here, maybe you didn’t see it. It helps me cut down on the waste I create.”

It’s the difference between being aggressive and being collaborative. Calling out has its place — when the situation is already in opposition and you need to stand up for something fast. But in general, positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement.

It’s exciting to be in an era of evolution; a new understanding of sex and gender, and what that means for menstruation. I hope our followers and customers will continue to call us in and be patient with us as we make updates to the language we use in our materials (on my to do list: “review website for gendered language”). Most of all, I hope our trans* and non-binary friends know this: we hear you, you belong here, and you matter.