It’s a tiny change, one you may not even notice, but Always, Procter and Gamble’s menstrual products brand will drop the Venus symbol from its products around the world by 2020. The icon was more than just about branding. It highlighted that pads, and other menstrual products, were designed for women. But the thing is, female-identified people aren’t the only ones who menstruate. There’s a community of gender-fluid, nonbinary, and transgender people who pick up pads at the grocery store, and the little Venus symbol suggested that these products were not for them.
It’s feedback from the LGBTQI community that prompted P&G to remove this symbol from its products, the company said in a statement. It was a small shift in packaging that was imperceptible to some women, who pointed out on social media that they had never even noticed the Venus symbol. In other words, Always had the opportunity to become more inclusive, without impacting the majority of its customers. It was a much less risky move than what the period startup Thinx did in 2017 when it featured a trans man in its advertising campaign.
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Um. What’s with this new and unnecessarily gendered packaging, @proctergamble? I’m sure a company as large and lucrative as yourselves will be well aware that your product isn’t just used by women, and that having to use something that is labelled as such when you’re in a vulnerable position (like literally bleeding into a toilet with your pants around your ankles) isn’t the most fun. Men use your pads. Non-binary people use your pads. Not everyone who menstruates needs a reminder that “this is what women do!” when they’re already having a bad day. ????
And yet the backlash against P&G has been swift and virulent. British commentator Julie Bindel, writing in The Telegraph, made the case that Always was “caving” to trans activists and “eliminated women.” (On Twitter, several women noted that they had not, yet, disappeared into thin air, but they would keep checking to see if Always’s packaging change somehow erased them from the face of the Earth. I, for one, am still here. Are you? Good.)
To appease people like Bindel, P&G has released a statement to several news outlets reiterating its support of cis-gender women. “For over 35 years, Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so,” it said. “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 consumer feedback, 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.”
P&G is a $68 billion multinational corporation that answers to shareholders, which is perhaps why it’s been more cautious than competing startups in its efforts to be more inclusive and in its response to critics. But this small shift in package design is meaningful, not just to the trans, gender-fluid, and nonbinary people it was made for. It signals to the rest of big business that it’s time for us to think more inclusively about package design. And it serves a reminder that user-based design means paying close attention to all users, even those who have been historically marginalized.