Saying the word ‘period’ in an unapologetic, matter-of-fact and normal-volumed way can often be viewed as controversial, inappropriate, and ‘TMI’. Research by period tracking app Clue found that there are over 5,000 euphemisms for the word “period”. But dancing around a word can give that word a certain power (like with Voldemort – “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself”). In the case of menstruation, refusing to say ‘period’ increases secrecy, gender binaries, and shame.
This refusal stems further than spoken language. In marketing, it’s uncommon to read the word ‘period’ in print. But last June, a supermarket in New Zealand changed its language around the period products they sold. It was the first retailer in the world to use the word “period” to describe these items.
Did the sun fall out of the sky? No. Did supermarkets and drugstores in the UK (or in fact, anywhere) follow suit? Also no.
Boots shelve their period products under “Feminine Hygiene”. Tesco brand them as “Sanitary Protection”. Meanwhile Superdrug, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose and Aldi go with the less clinical “Feminine Care”.
There are two main problems with this sort of language.
The first is that cleanliness-related terms such as ‘sanitary’ and ‘hygiene’ in the advertising of period products maintains the dangerous ideology that periods are unclean. Looking for synonyms of ‘sterilized’ and ‘uninfected’ on shop signs when it’s your time of the month is a constant and not-so-subtle reminder of the enforced shame people who menstruate are meant to feel about this natural part of reproductive biology.
Other bodily-fluid-related products like toilet paper, nappies and tissues are never advertised with such language. They’re simply sold as they are.
Imagine advertisers treading on eggshells around the word ‘toilet’, who instead sell ‘derriere cleaning sheets’ or ‘sanitary waste-pit bleach’. Buyers would become accustomed to the hush hush connotations surrounding this word, and the word ‘toilet’ would become taboo. However, the simple everyday need for toilet paper makes this scenario seem ridiculous. The same principal applies to period products.
Period is not a dirty word because periods are not dirty. It seems strange to have to justify this in the forward-thinking era of 2021. The social impact of language is often underrated, but if UK sellers simply marketed period products as ‘period products’, we’d be taking a step in the right direction.
It’s worth commending Lidl Ireland, who, although uses the term ‘sanitary products’ in-store, recently became the first major retailer in the world to offer these products free in order to combat period poverty. Some Morrisons branches across the UK have also launched a similar scheme.
Additionally, using the word ‘feminine’ to describe period products is another social signifier that tells us periods are womanly. However, for trans, genderqueer or nonbinary people, having a period may be unavoidable, and it’s not something that signifies their gender identity. Associating periods with femininity further strengthens the outdated definition of a ‘woman’, as someone who bleeds, and actively isolates and marginalises those who don’t fit in with this.
Our bodies do not determine our identities. No one should feel like they have to submit themselves to old-fashioned order just to purchase necessary items.
A charity that promotes the normalisation of period language, as well as actively fighting for menstrual equity and the rights of people who menstruate, is Bloody Good Period. I had the pleasure of speaking with the charity’s Communications and Public Fundraising Director, Rachel Grocott, for her insight on period product language. She tells me:
I asked Rachel about the work Bloody Good Period does which discourages terms like ‘sanitary’, ‘hygiene’ and ‘feminine’:
“We use straightforward language, like calling pads and tampons ‘period products’. We have a guide to period language on our website, so we can help others to adopt more positive language too. We also simply talk about periods, and encourage everyone to do the same. Just scroll through our Instagram for period art and menstruation conversation, or come along to our annual comedy night, Bloody Funny, for all the period lols. We think that all of this helps to break down shame. It helps us to have conversations, and that in turn means that people can more easily access the right information and support.“
In regard to an ideal future for the marketing of period products, Rachel says:
“We are calling for period products to be freely available for everyone who needs them, rather than the domain of big manufacturers with shame-based marketing campaigns (see our petition here). Until that happens, we would love to see more positive language used, as well as products that are good for people, for the environment and for organisations which help those who otherwise can’t access period products.“
Marketing and advertising can determine the messages consumers internalise. Therefore, purchasing period products from sellers who state that your natural biology defines your gender, and suggest your period is unclean, and something to be hidden away, can not only damage your self-value, it’s a vicious and unethical exchange of necessity and maintenance of the ‘norm’. It’s time for in-store language to upgrade.
Sustainable period product store Natracare are currently campaigning for supermarkets and retailers to change their in-store language around period products. You can be a part of #RenameDontShame by signing their petition.
Donations made to Bloody Good Period will help facilitate getting period products to those who can’t afford or access them. You can make a contribution on their donations page.