Oct. 24, 2019 -- In a move hailed by the LGBTQ community, Procter & Gamble announced that it will remove the Venus symbol from wrappers for Always brand sanitary pads. The symbol, depicting a circle with a cross beneath it, has long been used to represent women. Removing it increases inclusivity for transgender men and nonbinary people who menstruate, the company says.
“For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so,” the company says in a statement. “We’re also committed to diversity & inclusion and are on a continual journey to understand the needs of all of our consumers.”
Although some media reports said that a movement of transgender activists prompted the change, in reality, Always says it routinely assesses “our products, packaging, & designs, taking into account a variety of inputs including in depth consumer research, to ensure we are meeting the needs of everyone who uses our products. The change to our pad wrapper design is consistent with that practice.”
While some conservative media outlets portrayed the decision as the company backing down to just a handful of requests, the fact-checking website Snopes says that was not the case.
For cisgender people -- those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth -- a wrapper change like this might carry little meaning. But, for transgender boys and young adults, “It’s empowering and affirming,” says Cynthia S. Fisher, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Daytona Beach, FL, who works almost exclusively with transgender clients.
For the trans boys and men Fisher works with, menstruation itself is stressful. “There’s a whole culture around periods -- having your first means you’re becoming a woman. It’s associated with femininity; understandably so, historically,” she says. “Something as simple as removing the symbol that says the product is only for women can make a big difference.”
In therapy sessions, Fisher often hears from trans boys and teens about the problems they face during their periods. “In the boys’ bathroom, they have no means to dispose of products discreetly. They may not attend school at all during those times -- it’s a major, traumatic event,” she says.
Some people who are disturbed by the change have started a Twitter hashtag, #boycottalways. “There’s a pervasive atmosphere of hostility on social media, so much ignorance and misunderstanding,” says Fisher. “Trans youth are seeing these comments, and it contributes to their depression and suicidal ideation.”
Forty-one percent of respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported attempting suicide. Fisher attributes the social media response to people’s misconceptions about what “transgender” means. “They view trans people as not quite human,” she says.
One woman who wishes to remain anonymous because her teenage trans son has been bullied echoes that view. “These symbolic gestures are always welcome, but we have so much work to do in areas that impact trans people's lives in much more critical ways,” she says. “We need politicians, teachers, clergy, and Hollywood to stop demonizing trans people so that the rest of society can learn to treat trans people as full human beings rather than bully them, discriminate against them, and harm them.”
Always isn’t the first commercial entity to move toward a more gender-neutral approach. Thinx, a company that makes period-proof underwear, uses the tagline “For people with periods.” Last month, toy company Mattel made headlines when it announced a new line of gender-inclusive dolls.
Jack Turban, MD, is a resident physician in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital & McLean Hospital, where he researches the mental health of transgender youths. He sees a larger significance in changes like this. “This move from Always sends a signal to these marginalized youth that there are people out there, even big organizations, who care about and respect them. I can’t emphasize enough how important that message of acceptance is for someone who has repeatedly been told they aren’t accepted, or don’t belong in society.”