Periods are messy, stressful, essential and expensive and painful. What they are not – feminine. As we unlearn more of our patriarchy and cisnormativity every day, it becomes essential to ungender everything we know about menstruation. Starting from point zero, gender doesn’t mean sex and sex doesn’t mean gender. Which means having a vagina doesn’t essentially mean being a girl, and testicles don’t mean being a boy. Thus, to reduce ‘womanhood’ to a biological process that is menstruation is a gross reduction, because there are women who do not menstruate, and ‘menstruators’ who aren’t women. Menstruators is a much more appropriate word, for any of our conversations around periods.
What does it mean?
Menstruators, evidently means, people who menstruate/have periods. This is a much more inclusive term used by informed health care providers, because it includes transgender men and non-binary people as well. This also decouples menstruation from womanhood. Transfeminine women do not experience bleeding during menstruation, and there are many cisgender women that don’t either due to hormonal and biological reasons. Saying that women by default are menstruators delegitimises these women while also placing periods at the centre of their identity as women. It is inaccurate to say all women have a shared biological experience. Further, non-binary people, transmasculine men are also erased in conversations about menstruation this way. This separation of gender identity from menstruation ensures it is seen simply as a biological process and dismantles its gendered myths.
Trans Exclusionary Feminism is not Feminism
This history of the word Menstruator actually goes back to the third wave of feminism in the west- almost 30 years ago. Often TERFs – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists have spoken about the term ‘menstruators’ being erasure of femininity. But, femininity is not biological, so why should it be centred around this. Also, this does not in any way complicate ‘periods’ or ‘feminism’ but instead nuance it. This has been a common critique for the inclusion of any intersectionality in feminism, but intersectionality makes feminism more comprehensive. Another thing to notice is the constant discourse around the ‘body’. It says, transmasculine people still have ‘female bodies’, but using such terminology delegitimises trans people by reducing them to their anatomy. This implicit construction of gender through biological sex leads to violence against trans people, discrimination in availing health care and complete erasure of non-binary folks.
Unlearning this also means engendering all associated practices with menstruation. Menstrual hygiene is commonly referred to as ‘feminine hygiene‘ which further caters to only one group of menstruators. Menstrual education must also be gender-neutral and not limited for cis-gendered women at school. This helps in ensuring the conversation around menstruation is removed from a facet of being a ‘girl’. These products are also difficult to afford, and attached with a lot of stigma, making it all the more inaccessible for non-binary and trans folks.
Every time we recognise these nuances, the feminist movement doesn’t become distracted, just much more legitimate.
Anureet Watta is an Intern at She The People TV. All opinions are the author’s own