One of the most recent items to surge in popularity with advocates for eco-friendly bathroom swaps is the menstrual cup. These cups are typically made of silicone and shaped like a cone or a bell and have cult followings because they minimize risk of toxic shock syndrome, can safely be used for more hours at a time, produce less waste, and are often cheaper than other hygiene products over the long term. For decades, the market was dominated by a single brand; however, in recent years there have been a handful of new brands, campaigns, and curious cup-users.
June is a menstrual cup brand that was founded in 2017, among a small handful of cup competitors. What sets them apart from many other menstrual hygiene product brands is their shift away from heavily gendered language for periods, such as “feminine hygiene”, or referring to their customers as women and girls. One of their Instagram posts during the summer of 2020 depicted a model with shorter hair and masculine features, smiling and holding a June cup. The caption of the image reads: “At JUNE, we strive to make sustainable menstrual care accessible and affordable to everyone. We’re excited to be a part of a community of inclusivity that’s always growing”. This was posted nonchalantly and without any fanfare, hashtag, or huge announcement of a related marketing campaign. The social media ad does not specify the gender of the model, and the caption only refers to “inclusivity”. Yet the post still stirred up many more likes and many more comments than is typical of their posts. Why? Because their model, Skylar, is a nonbinary trans man.
The fact is that some people who menstruate are women, some are not, and there are also some women who don’t menstruate at all. Yet having a period is often explicitly tied to womanhood and femininity, a narrative that is often initiated in health class and incessantly perpetuated through media depictions of girls “becoming women” and ads for period products. Menstruation in and of itself can cause significant dysphoria for many trans men and nonbinary folks, even without alienating advertising. For a while the primary menstrual cup on the market was called the Diva Cup- some other brands now have names like Femly, Blossom, Athena Cup, Duchess Cup, and Lily Cup. And of course, the cups come in pink and purple with cursive fonts, and the packaging is stamped with floral patterns. Doesn’t seem to welcoming and inclusive, right? The majority of the imagery and language associated with advertising menstruation products is hyperfeminine and does not present the product in a way that is inclusive of their potential customer base.
What’s interesting about June’s advertisement is that by casually introducing diverse menstruating bodies as the faces of their campaign, they are not only signaling that they are a brand that welcomes all genders, but they are encouraging people to challenge their assumptions about who menstruates and the language that they use to have these conversations. They acknowledge on their webpage that they used to use gendered language to advertise their products but have realized their error and corrected it. Of course, we have to keep in mind that June is a brand, and their number one mission as a company is to sell their product. Even if their goals and values are aligned with authentic diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, it is difficult to consider that inclusion in isolation from their marketing strategy. Since June didn’t introduce Skylar as trans in their initial post, comments ranged to enthusiastic support, to angry bigotry, to confusion. Most of the comments were expressing support and excitement for both the model and the brand.
“Messaged yall a while back about more inclusive language and so happy to see youve done the work 🤗💜 appreciate ya!” – @ileak_balance
“thank you so much for recognizing that menstruating bodies exist outside of the false binaries we’ve been taught. Thank you thank you thank you” – @novadame
However, many commenters were expressing disgust or anger at the post. A few were initially confused as to why someone who is not a woman is representing period products but seemed to understand once the brand responded in the comments.
Since they don’t identify the Skylar’s gender, June is assuming that followers will draw their own conclusions from the image. An example of a menstrual cup brand that was not so subtle and took a much different tone was Ruby Cup, which posted an article discussing how they were going to change the language on their website to be more inclusive and started off with the words “Dear Transgender Community, Sorry for being narrow-minded and for discriminating against you”. Was June’s approach to inclusivity more powerful because of its subtlety, or was the bold acknowledgement and education that Ruby demonstrated taking more ownership?
Either way, the reality is that some menstrual health brands are shifting their brand away from ultra-feminine, binary-reinforcing language and imagery that isn’t inclusive of everyone who has a period. It is important to keep in mind that these are brands with marketing goals that are behind these changes, but the hopefully representation and inclusivity demonstrated by brands like June continues.
JUNE [@thejunecup]. Photo of Model Holding Menstrual Cup. Instagram, 29 June 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CCCdEtTF8f_/.
We Need to Apologize., Ruby Cup, https://rubycup.com/blogs/news/we-need-to-apologize.