The Problem with “Feminine” Wellness
We get a lot of questions at Lunapads about why we're so committed to an inclusive message. Here, our guest blogger Mika digs into why it is important for brands to be gender-inclusive, especially when working in an often cisgendered space.
“Feminine” wellness strikes again, this time headed by a millennial woman who didn’t seem to get the memo that women aren’t the only ones who have to worry about their vaginal health.
That’s right, a new “feminine” health and wellness product line called Queen V has hit the physical and digital Walmart and Jet.com shelves. The brand is targeting millennial women with bright, colorful packaging and youthful, yet exceptionally gendered language. Besides the fact that they clearly brand themselves as a feminine health and wellness brand, it only takes a cursory glance at the website to know this brand isn’t inclusive of the transgender or genderqueer communities:
- They tout “Fempire formulas” and “galpal packaging”
- The email submission form asks you to “Join our Girl Gang”
- The “Our Story” section says Queen V products are “For Women, By Women”
I could go on, but you get the picture.
The Problem with “Feminine” Wellness
So what’s the big deal? Women do have vaginas, so it makes sense to call product lines like Queen V “feminine” health and wellness brands, right?
Eh, no, not really. The term itself is really outdated and should be tossed straight in the trash. Let’s just tear it up and burn it.
Why? The answer is simple: there are people who have vaginas who don’t identify as women. Whether they are transgender men or genderqueer people, their sex does not align with their gender identities. That means that many transgender men need the same vaginal care as a cisgender woman. And some transgender men have unique gynecological needs. If they are taking testosterone, they may experience significant vaginal dryness or even vaginal atrophy and could benefit from over-the-counter lubricants and moisturizers.
Bottom line: transgender men and genderqueer people need access to vaginal health and wellness products that are made for them, too. That means when we continue to label these products as “feminine” wellness, we exclude entire populations of people who have vaginas but don’t fall into the “feminine” category. Again, what’s the big deal? Can’t they just buy the products anyway and use them? Well, that answer’s not quite so simple.
Again, what’s the big deal? Can’t they just buy the products anyway and use them? Well, that answer’s not quite so simple.
Firstly, no one should have their gender identity disrespected. You don’t see cisgender people forcibly misgendered, so why do we keep doing it to genderqueer and transgender people? Look at the Dove line of health and wellness products, for example. You’ve got products very clearly branded for cisgender men and women with their Dove Men+Care Line versus essentially everything else Dove, which are all branded for women. You’re a woman? Great! We’ve got a product for you! A man? Yep, here you go! Trans man? Well, the Dove women’s aisle is right this way…
Also, the psychology behind gender identity can be very complicated for some transgender people. Some experience symptoms of gender dysphoria when confronted by products like Queen V because the way the products are branded conflict with the gender with which they identify, and it can be a painful experience. They need to care for their bodies, but they’re forced to use products branded in a way that runs completely counter to their identities, and this can trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, and confusion.
How Brands Can Do Better
Queen V isn’t the only millennial health and wellness brand out there that’s guilty of gendering its products. Just last month, Teen Vogue, which caters to a millennial audience, published a slideshow on the “10 Best Products for Vaginal Health,” and eight out of the 10 products were marketed specifically to women. Vaginal cleansing wipes? Women only. Vulva cream? Women only. Yeast infection treatment? Women only. The two outliers? Two out of the three probiotics included in the list. That’s right; even one of the probiotics was gendered.
The message here for trans and genderqueer people? You’re still not welcome here. This isn’t a safe space for you. And that’s not OK.
Brands need to ditch the gendering of health and wellness products. It doesn’t take much for brands, especially innovative, new brands, to include all genders in their millennial-targeted messaging:
- Use gender-inclusive language, like “vaginal health” instead of “feminine health”
- Use more diverse spokespeople in marketing campaigns
- Stop using only cisgender women in imagery and photography to market products
- Use gender-neutral product packaging
It’s time brands drop the gendered language and start including under-represented populations who also need their products. It's not only good business, it's the future.