Let’s talk about words for a minute. Language is one of our primary ways of interpreting the world and communicating knowledge to others. Meaning words are incredibly important and shape how we see the world. The wording “reusable sanitary pads” makes most of us think of something different than “reusable period pads”. We’ll break it down, focusing on “sanitary” vs “period”.
The Power of Language
What do you think of when you hear, read, or say “sanitary”?
I think of:
- Gloves, hairnets, face masks
Those are all good things, right? Yes, of course. But does that describe a period?
What do you think of when you hear, read, or say “period”? (and let’s assume we all are thinking about menstruation and not grammar for this word)
I think of:
- 1 week every month (ish)
These are part of the menstrual experience, so “period” is a better word to use when we talk about menstruation, right? It conveys the experience much better.
Why is “reusable sanitary pads” such a common phrase then?The phrase “reusable sanitary pads” is a marketing tool to make us think that periods are dirty. Why do companies want us to think periods are dirty? So that we think we need whatever product they’re selling to stay clean. Other common words used in this type of marketing are “discrete” and “leak-free”. It’s fine to keep your period private, but you don’t need to feel ashamed about it. Leaks happen, and while they’re annoying, it’s not something we should be ashamed about either. Periods shouldn’t be a shameful secret.
Of course, being clean and maintaining personal hygiene is necessary, especially during our period. But we shouldn’t be afraid to use the word “period” when talking about this natural, common occurrence that half of the world’s population experiences.
“Reusable sanitary pads” is a powerful phrase that allows us to avoid discussing what they’re really used for. It allows “period” to remain an awkward or scary word to use, and that translates into the experience of periods remaining awkward and scary. But we can change this!
P.S. The phrase “feminine hygiene products” does a similar thing, but also excludes trans bodies. Which can not be tolerated. Not every woman menstruates, and not everyone who menstruates is a woman.
End the StigmaIt’s time for the stigmas around periods to end. You can start by using the word “period” a whole lot more. Periods aren’t inherently dirty, shameful, or something that needs to be kept a secret. They’re natural and part of our health. Periods deserve far more respect.
What should we be saying?Period products or menstrual products! Super easy, call ‘em what they are.
“Cycle care” is a new phrase I’ve come upon, and seems like a good alternative if you’re feeling a bit timid about saying “period” or “menstruation”.
Why do you still see “reusable sanitary pads” in some of our articles?
Because that’s what people search for; it’s the language they’re familiar with seeing. We’re all about educating and informing people, and we need to make sure that content is found. The more of you who start saying “period products” or “menstrual products”, the less we’ll have to keep using “reusable sanitary products”, so spread the word! (literally!)
Want to read more about this?
I highly suggest reading Breanne Fahs essay titled, “ ‘Feminine Hygiene’ and the Ultimate Double Standard”. She goes into a brief history of the term “feminine hygiene”, her thoughts on the term, and it’s all fascinating.
Here is a link to most of the essay: “Feminine Hygiene” and the Ultimate Double Standard – Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (menstruationresearch.org)
(I think only the last paragraph is missing, in which she questions what “masculine products” would be)
Language is an ever-evolving reflection of society. We have the power to use words that empower or disempower, celebrate or stigmatize, honour or shame. That’s why this is so important. This also means that we may find a better word or phrase to describe menstruation and the supplies one needs to maintain their wellbeing in the future – but for now, this is the best we’ve found.
Written by Morgan Ludington
Edited by: Lilypads