Here’s why Always removing the female symbol from its menstrual pads is so controversial

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Always is removing the female symbol from its wrappers to be more inclusive and people have strong opinions about it. (Photo: Getty Images)
Always is removing the female symbol from its wrappers to be more inclusive and people have strong opinions about it. (Photo: Getty Images)

Always is removing the female symbol from its menstrual products’ packaging to be more inclusive of transgender and non-binary costumers — and people have strong feelings about it.

In a statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle, a spokesperson for Always said: “For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so. We’re also committed to diversity and inclusion and are on a continual journey to understand the needs of all of our consumers. We routinely assess our products, packaging, and 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.”

The Procter and Gamble brand reportedly decided to remove the feminine Venus symbol from the wrapper that goes around individual sanitary pads after transgender activists, including Ben Saunders, reached out to Always in the summer. They asked Always to make the change, explaining that there are transgender men who still get their periods.

Always responded by making the design change, which will take effect in 2020. In the statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle, though, Always pointed out that the packaging design is “updated regularly” and the new design “does not impact the outer packaging/box or brand visual identity.”

Several have applauded the decision.

“I think it's a remarkably progressive, inclusive and savvy thing to do for what is surely a relatively small, trans masculine segment of their consumer base,” Jenn Burleton, program director of the TransActive Gender Project at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling in Portland, Ore., tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Burleton adds, “In general, it demonstrates growing awareness that the marketing of products should be focused on what the product does for a consumer, rather than designating — through packaging or text — which gender role the product is appropriate for.”

Paula Neira, clinical program director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, agrees, telling Yahoo Lifestyle, “I think this is a move to demonstrate inclusion, and it reflects the reality that the population that needs the products is more than just folks that identify as female. It’s more inclusive recognizing that transgender males or nonbinary individuals may still need the products.”

But not everyone is a fan of the change. Some critics are saying removing the female symbol goes too far, describing it as an “attack on women” and evidence that women are “literally being erased.” Others are promising to boycott Always products. One outspoken critic, feminist journalist Julie Bindel, penned an op-end for the U.K.’s Telegraph, writing: “The likes of Always should not cave in to trans activists, but rather should recognize that the people boosting their profits and using their product are women — and only women.”

Bindel also tweeted: “By caving into trans activists, Always have eliminated women.”

Both Burleton and Neira have a response to people who say this design change “erases” women. "To those who say that changing graphics on menstrual hygiene products 'erases women,' I say you have a very superficial understanding of the ways in which women are both visible, affirmed and empowered in the world,” says Burleton.

Adds Neira, “The removal of the female symbol on the products doesn’t erase half the people on the planet that identify as female.”

Burleton says that it’s also not necessary to explicitly market these products to women. “We don't need stereotypical representations of the female body or pink packaging to determine that a product or service may be useful to us,” she says. “Women will not be erased; however, the attempt to marginalize and oppress women is happening in the patriarchal halls of Congress and the White House, not in the hygiene products aisle at the supermarket."

Others are calling out the fact that most people likely would not have noticed the change if it hadn’t been pointed out:

Neira notes that, with more than seven billion people on the planet, “there are a couple that might get offended, but that “doing something that helps people and literally harms no one is an overall positive thing.”

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