*Note: terms related to gen­der iden­ti­ties are explained in the info box.*

Why gen­der-inclu­sive lan­guage is so impor­tant when talk­ing about menstruation

Espe­cially mar­ket­ing mes­sages and prod­ucts are strongly designed to sup­posed gen­der-spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics, as is the case with men­strual prod­ucts as well. Men­stru­a­tion is still far too often asso­ci­ated only with girls and women. Now you may still think, yes, that’s how it is! But not all women men­stru­ate and not all who iden­tify them­selves as women men­stru­ate.  Say what? Even trans-, non-binary or gen­der-neu­tral peo­ple can bleed monthly. The pre­sen­ta­tion of men­stru­a­tion as an expe­ri­ence shared exclu­sively by women is there­fore not com­pletely right. Cis-sex­ist assump­tions about peri­ods and bod­ies can exclude and dis­crim­i­nate against cer­tain indi­vid­u­als. There­fore, we use the term ‘men­stru­at­ing peo­ple’ or ‘men­stru­a­tors’ and try not to speak of women or girls. This is our attempt to start includ­ing all peo­ple who have men­strual expe­ri­ences lin­guis­ti­cally. Because lan­guage matters.

So, should we now write ‘men­stru­at­ing peo­ple’ rather than women?

The term ‘men­stru­at­ing peo­ple’ is in no way intended to replace the term ‘women’. Women are women, a group of peo­ple who define them­selves as women. Men­stru­at­ing peo­ple are an even larger group of peo­ple, as there are peo­ple who men­stru­ate but do not define them­selves as women. How­ever, in the group of men­stru­at­ing peo­ple, women make up the largest per­cent­age in terms of num­bers. Since we are, among other things, a men­strual edu­ca­tion plat­form, we usu­ally talk about men­stru­at­ing peo­ple and mean women + other groups with men­strual experiences.

Another exam­ple

All these terms we are talk­ing about here are not sub­sti­tutes for the word ‘woman’. They are addi­tional ways of group­ing peo­ple with sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics together in order to describe them prop­erly and not exclude any­one.
To make it even clearer here is another exam­ple: trav­el­ers. We can say trav­el­ers or trav­el­ing peo­ple to all peo­ple who travel. How­ever, in this group of peo­ple there are trav­el­ing men and women, but also peo­ple who do not iden­tify as men or women, such as non-binary or trans­gen­der people.

menstruating people, infographic, diagram, periods, have no gender, non-binary, transgender, lgbqt, people who menstruate, trans periods, vulvani
menstruating people, infographic, diagram, periods, have no gender, non-binary, transgender, lgbqt, people who menstruate, trans periods, vulvani

Not all women menstruate

Another impor­tant aspect in this con­text is that not all cis-women men­stru­ate. This can have dif­fer­ent rea­sons, such as menopause, stress or hys­terec­tomy (sur­gi­cal removal of the uterus). Some cis-women may have never had their men­stru­a­tion due to health con­di­tions. How­ever, the lack of men­stru­a­tion does not make them less of a woman than those who bleed monthly. It is impor­tant for state­ments that define men­stru­a­tion as a pure source of fem­i­nin­ity to pay atten­tion to what the effects of such claims can have on peo­ple. Because with these mes­sages the expe­ri­ences of indi­vid­ual peo­ple can be made invis­i­ble and the nor­mal­ity of the binary gen­der sys­tem will be fur­ther supported.

INFO-BOX: What gen­der iden­ti­ties are out there? And what do the terms mean?

Lan­guage can be com­pli­cated and def­i­n­i­tions can be con­tover­sial. There are still no expres­sions or terms with which all peo­ple feel 100 per­cent com­fort­able. How­ever, one thing is cer­tain: peo­ple who do not feel that they are women or men essen­tially ques­tion the idea that gen­der = gen­i­tals. For a bet­ter com­pre­hen­si­bil­ity of the text, here is our attempt to give a brief overview of the var­i­ous con­cepts around sex and gen­der identities:

  • Binary gen­der sys­tem: Assump­tion that there are only two sexes (male or female)
  • Cis-woman or Cis-man: Peo­ple who iden­tify with the sex to which they were assigned at birth
  • Trans­gen­der: Peo­ple who do not iden­tify with the sex to which they were assigned at birth
  • Non-binary: Peo­ple whose gen­der iden­tity lies out­side the binary gen­der sys­tem and who iden­tify nei­ther as a man nor as a woman (e.g. queer)
  • *: The use of the gen­der star is the attempt to include the diver­sity of gen­der iden­ti­ties in writing.

If you are inter­ested to learn more about the topic? Then maybe the Trans 101 glos­sary with fur­ther read­ing rec­om­men­da­tions could be a good rec­om­men­da­tion for you!

Men­stru­at­ing peo­ple and the diver­sity of men­strual experiences

Vul­vani is for all peo­ple, all sexes, all gen­ders and all bod­ies. We want to cre­ate an inte­gra­tive and invit­ing space for all peo­ple, com­pletely inde­pen­dent of gen­der iden­ti­ties. We want to respect, appre­ci­ate and cel­e­brate the diver­sity of expe­ri­ences and iden­ti­ties. For even if the major­ity of peo­ple who men­stru­ate iden­tify them­selves as girls and women, they are not the only ones. It should be pos­si­ble for all peo­ple to talk about men­stru­a­tion with­out being assigned to a par­tic­u­lar gen­der or sex.

‚My body is not female. My men­stru­a­tion is not female. It just is. My body just is. My body is its own thing. It does what it does, and that’s fine. Get­ting my period is painful and bloody and messy and annoy­ing, but it doesn’t have to make me feel like less of a guy… Men­stru­at­ing doesn’t have to be a girl thing.’
(Wiley Read­ing)

Why inclu­sion is so important 

Inclu­sion and inte­gra­tion are often writ­ten off as beau­ti­ful ideals or utopias. But when they are prac­ticed, they can make an impor­tant dif­fer­ence in the every­day lives of real peo­ple. Inclu­sion is impor­tant for every­one, but above all for peo­ple who place them­selves out­side the binary gen­der sys­tem. True inclu­sion is so much more than what we say. But what we say and above all how we say it is cru­cial. Who are we talk­ing to? Who do we exclude? Because exclu­sion already begins with lan­guage and is often syn­ony­mous with exclu­sion in every­day life. That is why we are look­ing for bet­ter solu­tions and terms for all peo­ple. And we hope that with Vul­vani we can moti­vate and con­tribute to a more com­pre­hen­sive dia­logue about men­stru­a­tion for all people.

Are you a men­stru­at­ing individual?

If you iden­tify your­self out­side the binary gen­der sys­tem, we are espe­cially happy to hear from you in order to make our lan­guage and dis­cus­sions more inclu­sive for all. Send us a mes­sage with your feed­back, ideas and tips – we are so excited to hear from you!

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Founder Vul­vani | britta@vulvani.com | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-founder of Vul­vani. She loves research­ing, writ­ing and design­ing new arti­cles or inno­v­a­tive edu­ca­tional con­cepts about men­stru­a­tion all day long. When she is not trav­el­ling the world, she enjoys spend­ing time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.