The term ‘menstrual products’ covers a wide range of items including but not limited to tampons, pads, and menstrual cups. It might seem obvious as to why these products would be gendered, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Menstrual products are a good, solid example that displays both some of the most overt gender biases and some of the more covert ones.
First of all, let’s clarify that it isn’t only women (or all women) who menstruate. Transgender, agender, and non-binary persons also menstruate, and the menstrual products industry often fails to acknowledge this. Whilst brands such as Always and Luna have made a move towards inclusive language and marketing, the focus is very much still on women who menstruate. Not only does this make periods uncomfortable for those who are not cis-gendered women, but it also shuts down innovation and increases taboo.
We can’t talk about gender and menstrual products without talking about period poverty. Period poverty arises when people who menstruate can’t access the products they need. This could be due to finance or other situations, and those who experience period poverty are often already vulnerable such as homeless persons and refugees. Period poverty is also experienced by young menstruators who are embarrassed or undereducated, which leads to those persons skipping school and/or experiencing unwarranted shame and fear. The majority of people who menstruate are women, and women’s education is valued much less than men’s, so period poverty is not taken as seriously as it should be by governments worldwide.
Another aspect of period poverty that you might have heard of is the ‘tampon tax’. Although this has now been abolished in several countries, the tampon tax is a long-standing levying of VAT on menstrual products as they were deemed ‘unessential’. Any menstruator knows how essential tampons and pads are, the alternatives being unsanitary or life-halting. In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to promise free menstrual products to anyone who needs them. They are accessible from pharmacies and are provided in schools and universities across the country. To truly end period poverty, this provision of free products should be the standard across the globe.
The world, however, is changing, and more gender-neutral menstruation products are starting to enter the market. Menstruation is still viewed very much as a ‘women’s issue’ shrouded in mystique, but the more conversations we have about tampons or menstrual cups, the less mysterious they will become.