Image Credit: Ted Eyton
Last month, Always announced that they would remove the female symbols from their products by February 2020, to make them more inclusive to their transgender and non-binary customers. The crux of the matter is that transgender men still experience periods and having to buy an essential product which is signified as being ‘for women’ can trigger feelings of discomfort and anxiety.
A packaging label shouldn’t be too much of a major issue, right? Especially if its removal is making a few more people feel comfortable and included. Most customers probably don’t notice the tiny ‘Venus’ symbol on their products any - way. Well, apparently not.
A search of Facebook for ‘Always female symbol’ yields hundreds of negative results, many of which are too vulgar to put in print. One post says, “just because you no longer want to identify or look like a woman has nothing to do with me, so leave the symbolic meaning of women who still want to be women alone.” This same post has over 7.5K likes and over 39,000 shares: worrying, to say the least. Posts like this echo coverage by various tabloid papers, featuring headlines like, ‘transgender lobby forces sanitary towel-maker Always to ditch Venus logo from its products’, with one angry commenter calling the company “cretins”.
The root of the uproar seems to be in the supposed erasure of female identity. Feminist campaigner Julie Bindel has stated that “we’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology... this is pure cowardice and virtue signaling from these big corporate brands who are capitulating to the trans agenda.”
But what is the trans ‘agenda’? Trans men and women simply want to be able to go about their lives without being made to feel different, excluded or discriminated against. Granted, it’s extremely difficult to imagine if you identify to the sex you were assigned at birth the ordeal that the transgender community experiences in their day-to-day lives. The experience of feeling that you were born in the wrong body, and the discomfort and pain that comes with this can never be fully recognised by a cisgender person. Stonewall’s best estimate says that 1 percent of the UK population is transgender, meaning that most people likely haven’t had a close encounter with a transgender person. This makes empathy difficult unless a cisgender person is willing to go out of their way to educate themselves.
This is something I often take for granted, as both my sister and one of my childhood friends are transgender. So, I’ve been gifted with a much more in-depth knowledge of the trans experience than a lot of my cis friends. It still surprises me when I have close friends, many of whom are LGBT, asking me questions about being trans that, to me, have obvious answers. When my sister came out as trans, my incredibly liberal, LGBT–supporting parents found it very difficult to respond to. They didn’t believe her. They didn’t listen to her for a while. But it was an entirely new and alien thing that they were dealing with, and they both went away and educated themselves, and now they could not be more supportive of her. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many transgender young people – she’s one of the lucky ones.
But this backlash against Always has proved that there are many cisgender people out there who aren’t willing to listen or learn. There’s nothing wrong with not fully understanding someone else’s experiences, but the problem occurs when ignorance becomes hatred. The language being used against Always’ decision is dangerously being disguised as a ‘feminist’ defense of female identity, when in fact it is insidiously transphobic. The simple fact is that you can’t call yourself a feminist if your feminism doesn’t cover the rights of the trans community.
I’ve seen the trans community be called out as “snowflakes” over the issue and be told that there are “bigger issues to worry about than tampon packaging.” So why are these so-called feminists wasting their breath on this issue? A woman’s identity is surely not so fragile that it can be threatened by the removal of a female sex symbol from a product which, let’s face it, cisgender women wish that we didn’t have to buy anyway.
There is a fine line between being ignorant and being malicious. I’m sure that many people who are sharing this anti-trans diatribe just don’t fully understand the issue. But on the other hand, this negative dialogue is in line with the TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) movement. According to the woman who coined the term, TERFs are “those who wish to keep the boundaries they’ve fought for as women’s spaces clear.” They see transgender women as a threat to women’s rights, as they don’t consider their gender identity to be legitimate. Exclusion of certain factions from equal rights is a tale as old as time in the feminist movement, from way back when Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued against voting rights for black men in the 19th century.
The privilege of being cisgender is that you’ll never be questioned for using your preferred toilet or changing room. You’ll never have people muddle up your pronouns. You’ll never have to go through rigorous counselling to ‘prove’ that your gender really is what you say it is. It wasn’t so long ago that feminists began campaigning against the ‘pink tax’ added to women’s toiletries. This attitude towards gendered packaging has changed exclusively and conveniently towards tampons, exposing this faction of so-called feminists for the bigots that they are.
It’s a more harrowing time than ever to be transgender, with minor issues like this causing disproportionate backlashes against a very small community. We all need to stand up for our transgender peers, in any capacity that we can. So many transgender issues are misunderstood, and a simple comment can add up against the negative myths being shared online.