The Big Bloody Problem with Corporate Period Positivity
BGP’s bloody brilliant Menstrual, Sexual and Reproductive Health Manager, Terri Harris, discusses the problematic overtones of Corporate Period Positivity and why we shouldn’t accept its ‘brand’ of period positivity…
Earlier this year the period product giant, Always, published a report entitled ‘It's Time to Talk’. The title made me laugh. For those of us working in the period space, it’s been time to talk for a long while. Yet, Always, in the rise of fashion feminism and period positive slogans, have decided now is the time to talk.
Ok Always - let’s talk!
In their twenty page report, Always proclaims to “shed light on the status of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) in the UK”. However, for anyone who has been keeping up to date on period poverty trends, and menstrual health news, it does little more than repeat what activists and advocates have been saying for the past decade: we need a societal shift to eradicate period shame.
As a Menstrual, Sexual and Reproductive health specialist and an educator, I of course value the statistics in this report - which underline the need for our work, builds our case for support and will be undeniably useful for funding applications. However: as great as that is, we should also absolutely note the juxtaposition of Always, the company who sold us blue blood and vaginal irritation for over 35 years, now claiming to change the world and end period stigma.
Since the invention of period products, emphasising shame has been the go-to advertising strategy, and as Clue points out in their article on period advertising, ‘many of the tropes used then are still common now.’ From blue blood, rustle-free wrappers, fragranced products and gymnasts cartwheeling with a pad on, the message is clear: periods should be neither seen nor heard.
Now after selling those who menstruate shame, stigma and taboo for decades, these companies have begun to flip that narrative on its head. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because it sells more products. And I, like many other period activists, have become increasingly opposed to this narrative shift by period product companies.
Despite Always working on data collection with Plan International UK, an organisation who has done fantastic work on period equality previously - it still manages to get so much, so wrong!
The Research isn’t Diverse
Always themselves state, from the start of the report, that ‘there remains an opportunity to gather further data from additional people, including marginalised groups and ethnic minorities in particular.’
When we know that Women and menstruators of Colour are more susceptible to severe menstrual health conditions like PCOS; and also that those within marginalised groups are more susceptible to period stigma and period poverty - there is an absolute necessity for these communities to be at the very foundation of the research.
As a subsidiary part of Procter and Gamble, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, Always has access to a research and development budget of over $2billion and partners in 80% of its product innovations. With this in mind, I’m sure, if Always had really tried, it wouldn’t have been difficult to find diverse youth groups and parent forums who would be willing to share their experiences for this report. So what is the real reason for this lack of data?
Inconsistent and non-inclusive language
As someone who has been educating young people on menstruation for the past five years, and as part of a proudly inclusive organisation, I know that language needs to be consistently inclusive of the experiences of everyone who menstruates; and that getting this wrong can be both ostracising and triggering. The Always report references ‘girls’ and ‘women’ - more than 45 times - but only occasionally remembers to also reference ‘people who menstruate’. We must remember that not all people who menstruate identify as female, and also that not all females menstruate. Neither does the report define different terms, nor acknowledge different experiences.
This, alongside the use of terms such as ‘dignity’ and ‘hygiene’ (both of which are bloody banned at BGP - read why here), and the complete lack of care when referring to people’s mothers/fathers (not everyone’s carers come under these terms), made me feel the report was carelessly put together.
So when Always proclaims in the report that it “has worked to create positive social norms and support around menstruation”, I beg to differ.
The Data isn’t New
As I said right at the beginning, this report didn’t give us anything new. Which is really sad! They interviewed thousands of young people and what they found out was: young people feel shame during their period, they use social media to gain menstrual knowledge and male carers feel awkward talking about periods.
Now, don’t get me wrong: the quantifiable data is great for funding applications - but with all that data, they managed to tell us things that any layperson who has been exposed to societal norms, or indeed anyone following @bloodygoodperiod on Instagram, could have!
If this report’s aim, was really, as Always put it, ‘to help policymakers, organisations, the media and others make informed decisions to improve MHH in the UK’ they would have asked more pressing questions, such as:
What are the trigger points for shame in your community?
Have you accessed products via schools or other educational institutions?
How much do you know about these key menstrual health issues?
And here lies my annoyance. Always, and these huge corporations, who now proclaim period positivity could, if they really cared, actually make substantial change. With the capital, workforce and visibility these companies have, they could revolutionise the way society views periods.
Instead they bring out virtue-signalling comms, like this report. With little thought, or effort, into what data and answers could have an actual impact on the current menstrual health landscape. They regurgitate the work of smaller organisations, without consulting them on the challenges or shared learning. And, ultimately what they produce does little to actually push forward the cause of menstrual equality.
The period equality space has consistently pushed against these corporate giants, in the face of stigma campaigns and shameful indoctrination. I hope that, as a movement, we will continue in this vein and not be blindsided by the capitalisation of the movement’s hard work and advocacy.
Terri Harris is the Menstrual, Sexual and Reproductive Health Manager at Bloody Good Period