Thursday, 8 September 2016

Men can Menstruate: The Importance of Understanding the story behind the #IfMenHadPeriods hashtag

So a Twitter ruckus has been created, supposedly within the "left wing" diversity centric side of the social media platform. It's been said that a liberal feminist Dr Jennifer Gunter created the #IfMenHadPeriods hashtag to imagine what it'd be like for cisgender men if they had a period. Her tweet said "#IfMenHadPeriods pads would be free". Which is a fair comment within the context of the debate surrounding access to sanitary products in allowing them to be readily available to all women regardless of social class, nationality and geographical location. It is realistic to suggest that if all men went through periods, there would be government funded sanitary product programmes in place to provide them with the necessary relief from embarrassment. Since the Establishment remains mostly patriarchal, even in the West, it would still hold true that part of the reason why government subsidised tampons are opposed by men is because male taxpayers are affronted by the idea of paying for basic hygiene measures even if it might make their wives/girlfriends feel better.

After the initial tweet, mockery then ensued after there were calls for Dr Gunter's tweets to be promoted. Many feminists thought that pictures of men pissing up walls with blood and writing their name (rather stereotypical of masculine "laddish" behaviour) were fine to disseminate across Twitter. As a satirist I do find such images rather reflective of societal attitudes, at least for a portion of Western society where men do tend to piss in the street despite being told not to. Then it was that time in the tweeting cycle when notorious Conservative Alt-Righter Steven Crowther just had to get involved and blame feminists for "wanting free stuff" and that this was "embarrassing"- the usual garbage you get when there's a battle between left and right over women's bodies. What Mr Crowther doesn't understand is that menstruation does get stigmatised in many countries across the world, especially in Africa, where women can often have very little access to toilet facilities and running water, let alone sanitary products. WaterAid actually ran a series of vids entitled If Men Had Periods to highlight this very issue. They then ran a survey which found that 70% of woman believe menstruation would not be stigmatised if men went through the menstrual cycle. This is no laughing matter: it demonstrates just how misogynistic society remains when they discriminate on the basis of biological difference. I believe the UK government should fund sanitary products for all women but that they should definitely be free of tax. This should now happen thanks to an online petition campaign created by Laura Coryton a 22 year old activist in May 2014 called "Stop Taxing Tampons, Period" to end 5% VAT on tampons which gained over 320,000 signatures, and which despite being initially opposed by EU bureaucrats is likely to be scrapped because we are leaving the EU. Manjit K Gill, founder of menstrual dignity charity Binti International said that if the Tory Govt carries out their proposal to scrap the tax it will mean that "homeless women in the UK may no longer have to use socks, rag or newspaper" to soak up blood discharge. Even male MPs such as Labour's Paul Sherriff believe that the tax cut should be passed onto female consumers (which means seeing a reduction in tampon costs overall) and that if the tax cut isn't passed on, he would propose amendments to the Finance Bill to provide for a windfall tax for female consumers. A progressive measure proposed by a cisgender men! Who can believe it?? Yet none of the tweets on the #IfMenHadPeriods hashtag seem to refer to such discussion, which is a great shame!

I guess what Dr Gunter and Mr Crowther didn't expect to happen next was for trans activists to take so much offence at the hashtag. They were quick to point out the major flaw with this hashtag when you take it seriously: some men do have periods because trans men who are only at the start of their transition journey will continue to have periods. But let's go one step further: non-binary/queer/gender-fluid people have biological organs which mean they end up going through the menstruation cycle bleed too. And not every trans man is comfortable with the idea of going through hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery. So they will continue to have periods for the rest of their lives. Let's go even further: What about intersex people? What about cisgender women who can't have periods due to medical reasons? Does that make them any less of a woman? Not if they identify as a woman. Yet these people never get mentioned within the debate by trans and feminist tweeters. It seems to be an Either/Or binary that gets created: you have to be trans to be defended from attack and trans exclusory feminists (TERFs) can't help but be derisory towards trans people but only those who have gone through surgery! TERFs are ultra-critical of trans women, accusing them of being "panto dames" who mutilate themselves to create their own fantasy woman image by using their own body to do it. Essentially they fetishize trans women and make transition a mostly sexual based decision. However TERFs tend to be rather quiet when it comes to trans men and their need for sanitary products. Indeed I've seen several tweeters who have damned trans men for daring to change their gender and tell them if they're so bothered about their periods they can get sanitary products readily because they'll "automatically gain more money" due to their change in gender which very rarely happens till the person has at least produced a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and changed jobs anyways!

What is important for trans activists and intersectional feminists who happen to be trans to see is that the Alt Righters and Conservatives couldn't wait to get stuck in and use the hashtag as a way of delegitimising feminism and SJWs as well as discriminating against the trans male community as a whole, accusing them of "lying" because they refuse to adhere to an immutable dual gender binary and they go against "doctors" because of this. Most TERFs happen to be conservative minded so it's no surprise they are ready to back Alt-Righters to enforce bigotry and prejudice. Yet trans activists need to see the whole picture with regards to the hashtag; that it wasn't initially created to cause offense to the LGBTQIA community but to highlight awareness of sanitary product provisions. Alt-Righting TERFs expected trans activists to be immediately dismissive of this. They wanted to see that trans activists don't have a sense of humour. So the best trans activists can do is to try and shake off the criticism, highlight the follies that are brought out by such a hashtag and perhaps get people to realise the importance of seeing beyond the dual binary system. Some men do menstruate, they care about sanitary provisions being available for all women. TERFs have to accept their caring attitude and accept that even cisgender men like Paul Sherriff can care about women's issues. Then maybe we can all have a laugh at blood spurting up the wall satirical pictures. Maybe.