But, Menstrual Pads Are For Women! …Aren’t They? (Part 1 — the War of the Sexes, circa 2020)
The completely unnecessary brouhaha over Always menstrual pads
Recently the brand Always announced it would drop the tiny female symbol in the wrapped design of its menstrual pads. Some called it a sensitive move, a good step forward in inclusion. Others have called it erasure of women, erasure of biology. Let’s see what the noise is all about, shall we?
Gary & Stephanie — A Short Parable
Imagine you have have a class full of children. In this class, you have one kid who’s been monopolizing all the attention forever — speaks loudest and longest, interrupts others, makes fun of other kids when they speak. Let’s call this kid Gary. In this group you also have another kid, who has felt for the longest time that her voice is not being heard. She’s tired of being bossed around by Gary, and she believes her ideas are just as valid as Gary’s and should be heard. Let’s call her Stephanie.
The teachers have been lax, and Gary has had full run of the class. He believes he’s superior to Stephanie, and bosses her around. When he’s not completely ignoring them, Gary also bullies the rest of the other kids. Stephanie has at times advocated for the others, but mostly because she seeks constituency against Gary.
Let’s say that for months the class has been a power struggle between Gary and Stephanie . And let’s say that, slowly but surely, Stephanie has made some headway. The teacher calls on her, instead of Gary, sometimes. Not often enough — and Gary still interrupts. But it’s better.
Let’s say that Gary doesn’t get to push Stephanie around as badly anymore, and Stephanie is hoping for more visibility, more agency.
When school started, everything in the class used to be colored BLUE, and branded with “Gary’s stuff.” Over time, Stephanie has succeeded in getting some stuff changed to PINK, and labeled “Stephanie’s stuff.”
Stephanie thinks the class is getting fairer. Gary is not happy.
The teacher divides the class into blue and pink, and tells the kids on the pink side to listen to Stephanie, and the kids in the blue side to listen to Gary. Some of the kids mutter, some seem openly upset about it, but everyone complies. And this uneasy truce, this fragile order, goes on for weeks and weeks.
But now something unexpected has happening. Ryley has demanded that some of the stuff be decorated in yellow, and labeled “Ryley’s stuff.”
Both Gary and Stephanie are completely thrown off by this.
Long discussions ensue.
“But, are you with Stephanie or with Gary?” They ask.
“I’m Ryley,” Ryley says.
“I don’t get it,” says Gary.
“This is so unnecessarily complicated!” bemoans Stephanie.
“Just… pick a side!” say both of them.
“But — I’m… Ryley,” says Ryley.
Finally, the teacher concedes, and Ryley gets their own labels, and some corners of the classroom are now yellow. Gary fumes. Stephanie pouts.
But things get worse.
The teacher is approached by two shy kids — small kids who he has honestly never noticed before.
“I’m Skyler,” says one. “I’m Finley,” says the other.
“We want our labels too. We want our colors too.”
When Gary’s blue stuff is relabeled, he screams at Stephanie: “This is all your fault!”
When Stephanie’s pink stuff is relabeled, Stephanie accuses the shy kids of being Gary’s minions, and fumes that the Pink color being erased.
Even Ryley gets into an argument with one of the other kids. “I JUST got my own colors!” Ryley yells.
Now the teacher, exasperated, yells at the whole class, “We’re going to do away with colors altogether!”
A small child in the back says, “But why can’t we just all get labels with our accurate names on them?”
And that’s where we are at, as a society. Gary and Stephanie trying to cling to their blue and pink territories, and a bunch of other kids wanting their own colors up.
We’ve arbitrarily divided all humans into Stephanies and Garys (what’s the plural for Gary? Garies? LOL), and we’re now recoiling in horror at the notion that individuals are more complex than that.
Change vs Status Quo
Since time immemorial there’s been those advocating for change, and those endorsing the status quo. No surprise: The ones pushing for “leave it as it is” are the comfy ones, the ones represented, the ones whose voices are heard. The ones who got colors and labels. The ones advocating for change are the voiceless ones, the invisible ones, the ones who don’t get a vote, don’t get a turn.
If you ever find yourself thinking, “oh for goodness’ sake, what’s all the fuss about, anyway?” — that’s a very clear sign that you’re on the privileged side. You got your turn, you ate your cookie, you were seen. So if you find yourself thinking that, please consider what experiences those on the other side might be living.
Read Part 2: Headlines, Outrage and Boycotts
But, Menstrual Pads Are For Women! (Part 2)
Maybe obsessing about gendering products is not the way to go?