“If “menstrual” is too uncomfortable for you to write, feel free to just cover the “feminine.”
By Ella Grim
During O-week, every upperclassman I met stressed the importance of not getting caught drinking before matriculation, a surefire way to get kicked out before classes even start. No one, however, was kind enough to explain campus attitudes towards vandalism. This is why the overtly gendered bathroom sign on my floor sports a sticky note instead of sharpie scribbles. (I really didn’t want to get kicked out.)
You’ve most likely seen the sign.
In its deep concern for the health of Dartmouth’s plumbing infrastructure, it provides a long list of items that SHOULD NOT be flushed: wipes (even those labeled “flushable”), paper towels, garbage (?), and, to my utmost frustration, feminine hygiene products.
There is nothing overtly feminine about menstruation. It’s messy, painful, and relatively inconvenient. I can’t think of a culturally “feminine” adjective (seductive, passive, dainty, etc) I would apply to periods. And actual menstrual products—as pink-and-purple wrapped as they tend to come—are genderless objects. The euphemism drives me crazy. It obscures a normal bodily function because of cultural discomfort with the female reproductive system. It is not only inaccurate, but exclusionary.
Many women menstruate. But not all women. Some women are trans. Some have had hysterectomies. Some have chronic health issues that have impacted their cycles. Some are on birth control. Some have gone through menopause. Truthfully, there is too much complexity within the human body and human experience to list every reason a woman might not mestruate.
Conversely, many people who do menstruate aren’t women.
In this context, that one little word—feminine—is a transphobic, ableist, ageist, and misogynist microaggression. It degrades the complexity and beauty of human identity. It imposes femininity on menstruators and denies femininity to non-menstruators. It’s exasperatingly outdated.
Dartmouth is creeping, albeit slowly, toward more inclusive restroom spaces. Although some are little more than a FOCO coffee mug with 5-8 tampons, there are now free menstrual product stations in a handful of central bathrooms on campus. Single-stall gender neutral restrooms vary in excellence, but are more widely available across campus. These first steps can and must be expanded to an examination of inclusive restroom signage.
Here’s the good news: this issue has a simple fix. So simple, in fact, that during the first day of O-week, my timid little freshman self covered the “feminine” with a nice “menstrual” sticky note.
Until Dartmouth’s administration updates restroom signage to reflect their diversity statement, we can fix this ourselves. Take a sticky note and plaster away. If you feel so bold, grab that sharpie and scribble out the “feminine.” This is a one word issue with a one word solution. If “menstrual” is too uncomfortable for you to write, feel free to just cover the “feminine.” Despite its lack of nuance and problematic framing of periods as unhygienic, “hygiene products” is equally effective in supporting diverse human experience and plumbing infrastructure.
If you want to go a step further, keep this article in the back of your mind for future O-weeks. Let future classes know that small acts of impermanent linguistic vandalism (especially in relation to restroom signs) won’t get them kicked out before they shake Phil Hanlon’s hand. Maybe they’ll use their O-week to continue the work—big and small, revolutionary or as mundane as altering bathroom signage—of shaping our campus culture into a more inclusive, empowering, and comfortable space.