Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

‘The Whole Bloody Truth’: why we must change period discourse

Uteruses have long been political battlegrounds. They have been subject to regulation by governments for decades but societally, reproduction-related processes have been deemed too taboo to talk about. However, as menstruation has become more widely discussed, the discourse that has emerged can be seen to be centred around cisgender women and their experiences.

In July, organic period product brand Callaly launched ‘The Whole Bloody Truth’ project to combat the failures of period brand advertising. Aiming to provide representation of periods for all people who menstruate, the project hears from 13 individuals who tell their stories and talk about their relationship with the advertising of period products. These include transgender, non-binary and intersex people whose periods don’t fit into the gender binary that has been assigned to uteruses.

The campaign puts a variety of faces to real period problems

Traditionally, brands that sell tampons, pads and menstrual cups have given images of thin, white, cis women who are able to be unstoppable as they experience menstruation. Yet, Callaly’s campaign found that the majority of people who menstruate, around two-thirds, do not see their period experiences in mainstream media. Around 55% also believe that this image of periods is ‘too glamorised’ from the reality of monthly discomfort and struggle for many.

‘The Whole Bloody Truth’ was set up to show the less picture-perfect side of periods that many people experience. From continuing stigma to medical conditions that affect menstruation, the campaign puts a variety of faces to real period problems. These include trans author Vic Jouvert, singer and activist Celestina Diamond and disabled influencer Grace Mandeville. The campaign also included Kenny Ethan Jones, the first transgender man to front a period product campaign for Pink Parcel in 2018.

The brand has promised to champion truthful narratives about periods

Callaly said that they are seeking to address many problems related to the image given to us about periods. They argue that a single story has been created around menstruation, resulting in exclusionary rhetoric around the topic and failure in innovate to accommodate everyone who needs period products. They have also attributed part of these problems to the fact that period product companies are dominated by cisgender white men, a group who do not experience periods themselves.

The brand has promised to champion truthful narratives about periods, inclusive language and workspaces as well as working towards to make their own products accessible to all. The CMO of Callaly, Kate Huang, said that through using more inclusive language we “can build a more compassionate, cohesive society.”

It is clear that both identity and biology…….are not binary concepts but exist on a spectrum

Callaly’s launch of ‘The Whole Bloody Truth’ also addressed recent comments made by JK Rowling. The Harry Potter author responded to an article that used the phrase “people who menstruate” with a tweet saying that there was already a word for people who menstruate, which was “woman”. The tweet faced significant backlash, with many calling the tweet transphobic and the author a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF).

People like Rowling view adapting language and services that have been allocated ‘female’ by society in order to include trans and non-binary experiences as an attack of womanhood and the ‘female’ experience. However, it is clear that both identity and biology – through the existence of intersex people- are not binary concepts but exist on a spectrum.

Brands are starting to recognise the breadth of needs from people who have periods

Furthermore, through allocating the notion of womanhood to reproductive capabilities, masses of people are alienated from their bodies and experiences. Along with trans and non-binary people who have been alienated from mainstream media,  cisgender women who do not menstruate or aren’t able to give birth are also harmed by this notion. This whole idea not only isolates individuals but keeps society trapped in a patriarchal mindset where people are categorised and subsequently valued based on their reproductive capabilities.

The strides forward made by Callaly can be seen to have pushed other companies in a positive direction already. Superdrug has now placed the inclusive menstruation language on its environmentally brand ‘Luna’, showing that brands are starting to recognise the breadth of needs from people who have periods.

While ‘Luna’ has come under fire on social media, equally positive reactions have come about too. The change by these companies is a promising push forwards to deconstruct the ties between biology and gender that were created decades ago and still dictate the majority of cultures to this day. Through small linguistic changes and the end of the unnecessary gendering of objects and services, we are moving towards a society that is inclusive for all.

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