The Menstrual Movement is a global movement that aims to reduce the stigma around periods and make sure that everyone has what they need to safely and healthfully manage their periods. Since activists all over the world are working towards menstrual equity, Period believes that having a common language that is inclusive, clear, and widespread will help us advance the goals of #unitedPERIOD. This is a good list of terms to help you understand any article you might pick up about menstrual health, menstruators, and the menstrual movement.
Free-bleeding: a movement in which menstruators reject the usage of menstrual hygiene products in order to protest corporate control of menstruators’ bodies and wellbeing. Free bleeders openly bleed into their garments or without any menstrual hygiene products to raise awareness of the reality of the stigmatization of menstruation and to stand in solidarity with those who may not be able to afford menstrual hygiene products.
“Man-struating”: a derogatory term often used as jokes amongst young people (around middle-school aged) or in some mainstream media to refer to a man who is acting moody or cowardly. It’s important to eliminate such humor as it builds upon the negative connotation and stigma around menstruation.
Menarche: the first menstrual cycle, or first menstrual bleeding that usually occurs around 12-15 years of age.
Menarche rituals: rites or rituals of passage which mark and celebrate the transition to adulthood at menarche. They prepare and instruct young girls in their new responsibilities as adults, with a particular emphasis on entering the sexual world.
Menstruation: also known as a period or monthly, the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina. The average length between the first days of subsequent periods ranges from 21 to 31 days for older individuals, and up to 45 days for younger people. The average menstrual cycle last around 28 days, and bleeding takes places during the first two to seven days of that cycle. Menstruation stops after menopause, around 50 years of age, and also stops during pregnancy and early breastfeeding.
Menstrual cup: a reusable cup that sits low in the vaginal canal to collect rather than absorb menstrual flow. A cup can last many years with proper care, does not produce paper waste, and does not come with the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Menstrual cycle: the monthly series of changes a female body goes through in preparation for the possibility of pregnancy. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg, in a process called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn't fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina releasing a menstrual period.
Menstrual Cycle Ecology (MCE): a discipline exploring the relationships, interactions and body-mind-soul connections of those who menstruate with their surrounding environment. MCE refers to a deep study and awareness of the different phases of the menstrual cycle and the use of this knowledge to better understand health and well-being. Belonging to the family of holistic health, body literacy, and cycle awareness, MCE is starting to gain traction in small alternative and activist communities in the US, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia.
Menstrual equity: coined by U.S.-based independent menstrual advocate and lawyer, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, menstrual equity describes the ability to manage menstruation in the context of full democratic and civic participation. Weiss-Wolf writes that “In order to have a fully equitable and participatory society, we must have laws and policies that ensure menstrual products and related hygiene needs are safe and affordable and available for those who need them. The ability to access these items affects a person’s freedom to work and study, to be healthy, and to participate in daily life with basic dignity. And if access is compromised – whether by poverty or stigma or lack of education and resources – it is in all of our interests to ensure those needs are met” (Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand for Menstrual Equity, Arcade Publishing, October 2017). While the term is not yet global, it is gaining traction amongst menstrual activists, especially in high-income countries, particularly where it was coined, in the United States.
Menstrual etiquette: the social rules and normative expectations by which women, girls, and those who menstruate come to understand what is considered appropriate behavior around their menstruating bodies.
Menstrual health: the umbrella terminology to used to describe all efforts to advance the menstrual movement. Menstrual health refers to the broader systemic factors that link menstruation with hygiene, well-being, gender, education, equity, empowerment, dignity and rights. Holistic, professional. and neutral, menstrual health captures the psychological, socio-political and environmental factors that accompany the menstrual experience, in addition to the hygienic management of the period.
Menstrual Health Management: preferred and more inclusive way to speak about MHM or the practice of creating a supportive environment for all people who menstruate to be able to manage their menses hygienically, safely, in privacy, and with dignity.
Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM): a term that originated in the WASH sector and is mostly used in the content of development and humanitarian programming. MHM is a medicalizing discourse that refers to the articulation, awareness, information, and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity using hygienic materials, together with adequate water, agents, and spaces for washing, bathing, and disposal with privacy and dignity (UNICEF and WHO). Importantly, many people working outside of development or humanitarian programming choose to replace the word ‘hygiene’ with ‘health’ because hygiene may reinforce stigma, taboo and the narrative that menstruation is dirty, impure, and something that needs to be hygienically managed or sanitized.
Menstrual hygiene: an interchangeable term corresponding to MHM, but dropping the clinical and impersonal term “management.”
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day): taking place on the 28th of May and initiated by WASH United, MH Day is a global platform that brings together non-profits, government agencies, the private sector, the media and individuals to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).
Menstrual hygiene products: a preferred and more inclusive alternative to “feminine hygiene products,” used refer to the personal care products such as sanitary pads, tampons, and pantyliners that are developed by large multinational corporations to absorbs liquids, such as menstrual blood and discharge.
The Menstrual Movement: a social, political, environmental and cultural movement that seeks to advance menstrual health, break the taboo and ensure that women, girls and those who menstruate can fully and equally participate in society. The Menstrual Movement took root in the US in the 1970’s - with books like “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by Angela Phillips, research collectives like the Society for Menstrual cycle Research (SMCR), and feminists like Gloria Steinem or Judy Blume bringing the topic into popular culture. The movement has been carried forward by a dynamic range of organizations and women’s health activists at the local, regional, national, and international level, including those working in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), education, gender, humanitarian, youth, economic empowerment, and environmental spaces, among many others.
Menstrual narratives: the stories and information given to girls upon menarche which shapes their first understanding of menstruation.
(Menstrual) period: a popular term for menstruation in English-speaking countries.
Menstrual practices: refers to the menstrual narratives, menarche rituals, and menstrual etiquette which characterize menstrual experiences. These context specific traditions impact how women come to understand, and respond to their cycle within socio-cultural norms.
Menstrual warrior: an advocate actively working to advance menstrual health.
Misogynistic or gendered capitalism: a form of capitalism that uses capital (money, assets, political support) to discriminate against female-identifying consumers. For example, many argue that the Pink Tax (otherwise known as the Tampon Tax or Luxury Tax) on menstrual hygiene products is a form of misogynistic capitalism because it forces women to pay more for products they need and deserve. Gendered Capitalism is often hard to pinpoint because there are many players involved in the process of consumerism, but the effects are clear: menstruators are left to pay more for a natural bodily process than non-menstruators.
Period activist: an activist or advocate of menstrual health.
People with periods: alternative inclusive terminology to refer to those who experience menstruation, because not only people who identify as women menstruate, but also transgender men or non-binary people. For advocates wishing to be more gender inclusive, the term “people with periods” is often used.
Stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Menstruation has been stigmatized as a disease, curse, superpower, and countless other conditions that justify unjust treatment of menstruators across the world. Different cultures have different stigmas associated with menstruation. For example, in some countries people with periods might be isolated from other people for the time of their period, and in other countries people are expected to keep their period products hidden view.
Taboo: closely related to “stigma,” a taboo is a social or, often, religious custom that prohibits discussion of a particular practice or condition, thus isolating members of a community who might be associated with the given practice or condition. Menstruation is a taboo topic in many cultures as a highly stigmatized condition that is often “unspeakable” and “untouchable” - a.k.a., a taboo.
Tampon Tax (a.k.a. Luxury or Pink Tax): a condition in sales tax under which menstrual hygiene products such as tampons and pads are not tax exempt, while other medical necessities are. As of early 2016, five states do not have a state sales tax (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon) and five states specifically exempted menstrual hygiene products from the sales tax (Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania). Some cities, like Washington D.C. and Chicago also exempt menstrual products from the tax. All 40 of the other states charge a sales tax on menstrual products. Internationally, some countries such as Kenya, Canada, and Ireland exempt menstrual products from the value-added tax. In other countries, movements to remove or reduce the tampon tax have been unsuccessful. Countries where this fight continues include Australia and Slovakia.
Women and girls: the commonly used term to refer those impacted by menstruation. This is particularly used in low-income countries and is aligned with the international development agenda, such as the SDGs.
Women, girls, and those who menstruate: inclusive terminology to refer to those who experience menstruation.