Caroline Colvin is a trans, non-binary person who regularly advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly those who identify with a gender different than the one they were assigned at birth. Recently, she wrote an article explaining why, in her opinion, associating periods with womanhood is problematic, and by extension, to stop associating periods with womanhood. This is what she has to say. (1)
Caroline Colvin: Stop Associating Periods With Womanhood
For Colvin, having a period has always been complicated. First, society’s teachings that getting a period was something dirty, their pain invalid, and that it needed to be hidden. Second, which came later on when they came out as non-binary, was the idea of only associating periods with womanhood. (1)
At first, Colvin was very outspoken about their period in front of their cis-male friends. They felt it was better to be open and honest about this ever-present aspect of life for anyone born with a uterus. (1)
“During my adolescence and young adulthood, I tested the waters to see how other people reacted to periods, noting the shame and disgust they exhibited. So I started being frank about my periods around my cis male peers.” they wrote. (1)
As Colvin realized that they felt more at peace with a non-binary gender identification rather than simple “female” or “male,” they became increasingly more aware of how gendered and transphobic menstruation products were. (1)
Who Can Get A Period?
For a long time, society has dictated that women have periods and men do not. Society marked having a period as a sign of being a woman. Then, they went and labeled it dirty, embarrassing, and shameful. Society has used periods as a way to devalue women’s emotions and physical pain while at the same time convincing them that they should hinge their “womanhood” on this biological function of their reproductive organs.
The problem with this is that it leaves out several other groups that identify as female. There are women who identify as women who just simply never get a period. There are trans women who don’t have periods. There are also trans men who do have periods. Finally, there are non-binary folk, some who have a uterus and therefore menstruate and others who do not. Essentially, we got to stop associating periods with womanhood, because it’s not that simple.
“Not all women menstruate, and not all people who menstruate are women,” says OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Conti. “If you have a uterus and aren’t pregnant/breastfeeding, menopausal, hormonally suppressing your periods, or dealing with a condition like PCOS, then you’re likely menstruating.” (2)
A Pause To Clear Up Any Confusion
I’m sure some are feeling a bit confused, so let me try and clear a few things up. First is the difference between biological sex and gender. Biological sex is the presence of either “female” reproductive organs (uterus, vagina, ovaries) or “male” reproductive organs (penis and testes). I use quotes because, as a society, we have given these organs binary gender identification.
Gender is completely different from sex and is entirely. At some point in history, it was decided that people who have vaginas are women and people with a penis are men. In reality, gender is much more fluid and something you align with rather than something biological. (2) The American Psychological Association (APA)explains it this way:
“Gender identity is defined as a person’s deeply felt, inherent sense of being a girl, woman, or female; a boy, a man, or male; a blend of male or female; or an alternative gender,” (2)
Cisgender people are those who identify with their biological sex. Trans gendered people are those who identify with the opposite. A transman is someone who was assigned female at birth but aligns with the male gender. A transwoman is someone who was assigned male at birth but aligns with the female gender. Non-binary people don’t align with their assigned sex but also don’t entirely align with that of the opposite. (2)
“Gender identity differs from sex assigned at birth to varying degrees, and may be experienced and expressed outside of the gender binary.” explains the APA. (2)
“Why Can’t We Just Call Them ‘Menstruation Products’”?
It’s hard not to notice the pink-washed period aisle, often labeled as the “feminine hygiene” aisle. For Colvin, the cis-normative packaging and language around the products they needed were overwhelming. They had to buy and use these products, but they didn’t feel like any of them were marketed to or made with them in mind. (1)
In October of 2019, Always brand menstrual products removed the venus symbol, a symbol often associated with womanhood, from their packaging. This came shortly after a trans teenager sent them a complaint about inclusivity. (3)
Labeling period products as “female” take away from the gender identity of both cis-women who don’t menstruate as well as transmen and non-binary people who do.
“Yes, many women do bleed. But being born with a uterus doesn’t automatically mean you’re a woman,” writes Colvin. “Plus, the association of “menstruating” with “womanhood” doesn’t just erase the experiences of trans men, intersex people, and gender non-conforming folks. This association can also hurt cis women who have health issues and don’t menstruate at all. Womanhood shouldn’t hinge on biological functions. Womanhood should depend on how people self-identify. Full-stop.” (1)
What Defines “Womanhood”
Many women are angry about stances like Colvin’s and the move by Always to “de-feminize” menstrual products. They feel as though it is an attack on what it means to be a woman. If having a period isn’t what defines womanhood, then what does? Is it really that big of a deal to stop associating periods with womanhood?
The reality is, being a “woman” and “womanhood” is actually a very personal thing. Take that from me, someone who identifies as a woman. Some women define their womanhood as the ability to reproduce and have a family. For myself, someone who isn’t sure she wants to go down that road, make me less of a woman? Of course not.
Other women define their womanhood as defying gender norms, climbing the corporate ladder, and becoming CEOs and powerful businesspeople. Again, as someone who wants a successful career but isn’t exactly a “live to work” person, does that, too, make me less of a woman? Also, again, of course not.
Womanhood Is An Individual Experience
I took the time to ask a few of the people in my life what womanhood meant to them. These people are of different genders and self-identities. Below are what they have to say womanhood means to them.
“Womanhood to me is probably the embodiment of both the masculine and feminine and the motivation and support of other female-identifying individuals.” – Allegra.
“I think of a community of women with common goals and interests.” – Adriana.
“I think for me womanhood is being that kind of nurturing vibe, I often associate it with femininity but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. It’s hard to define because I think it’s about inclusivity, but how do you define it?” – Darien.
“For some reason I picture Robin Hood but as a bad-ass chick running around with a bow and arrow. Womanhood means working for what you achieve and once you achieve it, working hard to prove that you deserved it in the first place. It is also sexuality, and femininity, and the ability to bring life to the world. It’s fascinating.” – Windy.
“Fierce and resilient.” – Chloe.
Stop Associating Periods with Womanhood, It Is Whatever You Want It To Be
My whole life, I’ve enjoyed playing sports and being outside, but the term “tomboy” never sat right with me. My favorite color was also pink, and I loved playing with Barbies, but I also didn’t feel like a girly girl. I’ve always floated in between, sometimes leaning more to one side than the other.
Despite this, I’ve always identified as a woman. I am proud to call myself a woman. I don’t feel any less “womanly” than anyone else because of any of the items mentioned previously. In the same vein, a transman isn’t any less a man because they still have a uterus and therefore bleed monthly. After all, being a man isn’t defined solely by having a penis, is it? There are so many aspects that go into what it means to be a man (and not the toxic masculinity trope). None of them have to do with biology or body parts.
Associating periods with womanhood does just that: Whittle what it means to be a woman down to body parts and something that, frankly, really sucks. Taking the pink out of periods or calling them “menstruation products” instead of “feminine hygiene products” is not an attack on womanhood. It does not take anything away from what it means to be a woman. It is just simply calling a product what they are: Menstruation products for people who menstruate. Period.
- “What It’s Like to Have a Period as a Non-Binary Person: ‘We Need to Stop Associating Periods With Womanhood’.” Health. Caroline Colvin. March 23, 2021
- “No, Acknowledging That All Genders Can Menstruate Doesn’t “Erase Women”.” She Knows. Kelly Gosalves. June 2020.
- “‘Some Men Have Periods, Too:’ British Mom And Son’s Educational Message Goes Viral.” Huffinton Post. Al Donato. November 7, 2019.