Women, females, menstruators - when to use which term?

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  • Elisabeth
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Women, females, menstruators - when to use which term?

Have you also noticed that the term "menstruator" is popping up more and more in publications about menstrual health and hygiene? How do you feel about that? Well, I was a bit confused so I did a bit of reading and thinking. Once I felt that I have figured it out (more or less), I put it in Wikipedia to summarise my learnings and to help others in their journey.

See here:  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation#Menstruator

Menstruator
A publication in 2020 makes the case for using the term "menstruator" instead of "menstruating women", stating that this term has been in use at least since 2010. [21] :950 The term menstruator is used by activists in order to “express solidarity with women who do not menstruate, transgender men who do, and intersexual and genderqueer individuals”. [21] :950 However, referring to people who menstruate as "menstruators" has also been criticized, and this is related to a more general debate within  feminism . [21] :950

Further up on the article we now also have this information:

Who menstruates
In general, women may menstruate after they have started menarche and until the time of menopause. Women who do not menstruate include:  trans women postmenopausal  women,  pregnant  women, and those experiencing  amenorrhea . [21] :950 During  pregnancy  and for some time  after childbirth , menstruation does not occur. The average length of postpartum  amenorrhoea  is longer when  breastfeeding ; this is termed  lactational amenorrhoea .

I'd be happy if others could add to that by suggesting other references which explain the concept even better. The way I understand it now is that "not all women menstruate (all the time in their lives)" and not all people who menstruate are women.

I am wondering how this discussion sits with you? Would you say "fair enough" or do you find it liberal & PC talk? Also I am wondering how menstruator could be translated into other languages. For example in German we don't have an equivalent term, and would probably say "menstruierende Person" (= menstruating person) which seems a bit of a mouthful. 

Is this important or unimportant for your work on menstrual health? What are your thoughts?

Regards,
Elisabeth


P.S. We also had a previous short discussion about it here (with Daphne):  forum.susana.org/24-menstrual-hygiene-ma...amps-in-greece#31899
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Ulm, Germany
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Founder of WikiProject Sanitation: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
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  • Britta
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  • Britta Wiebe is the Co-Founder of Vulvani, a bilingual educational online platform about periods, female health and sexuality. The main focus lies in menstrual education. The Vulvani Academy provides educational, yet entertaining online courses for all age groups, within a private and business context.
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Re: Women, females, menstruators - when to use which term?

We at Vulvani try to be as inclusive and gender-sensitive with our language as possible and thus prefer using terms like menstruators, menstruating people or depending on the context people with vulva / uterus. From our perspective, inclusion is important for everyone, but above all for people who find themselves outside the binary gender system. Our vision at Vulvani is to create a safe space for everyone who is experiencing menstruation at some point in their life and to learn about their own body - independent of gender identities. 
Here are two articles we've published on Vulvani about the topic, if you want to learn more about our perspective: 
-  Why are we using the term ‘menstruating people’?
Including the Men in Menstruation: Trans Periods & Branding 
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  • Elisabeth
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  • I'm passionate about SuSanA's role in the WASH sector since about 2005. I'm a freelance consultant since 2012 (former roles: program manager, lecturer, process engineer for wastewater treatment plants)
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Re: Women, females, menstruators - when to use which term?

Thank you, Britta, for these very informative blog posts that challenge our traditional thinking.

My question to people from around the globe is: how does this conversation sit with people in other cultures, such as developing countries, predominantly Muslim countries and so forth. I'm wondering if you might feel that we (Britta and I) are in a bubble of American liberal Western speech and are dealing with "luxury problems"? 
 
A lot of our members in the SuSanA Discussion Forum are from developing countries / Global South (about two thirds, see here ). I fear they don’t speak up about this but might silently find it very strange?
 
Secondly, I wonder what percentage of trans men do menstruate. Is there an estimate for that in the literature? It might be regarded as an insensitive question. Like saying if it’s only 1 person per 1 million then why bother. But I don’t mean it like that. I am just curious. It might be more people than ordinary people realise (or it might be less). I’ve also written about that on the Wikipedia article’s talk page for “trans men”, see here .

Regards,
Elisabeth
 
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Ulm, Germany
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @EvMuench
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  • awebbslh
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Re: Women, females, menstruators - when to use which term?

Hi Elisabeth, 

In response to your comment: 'A lot of our members in the SuSanA Discussion Forum are from developing countries / Global South (about two thirds, see  here  ). I fear they don’t speak up about this but might silently find it very strange?' I wanted to raise the point that we know many countries have groups who identify using terms loosely translated as 'third gender', including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia. While taboo in many countries (and illegal in some countries), perhaps the conversation is more familiar than we might assume.

Water for Women and Edge Effect produced a Guidance Note  (PDF) last year explaining how sexual and gender minorities were more likely to be left behind in COVID-19 WASH responses and recommend more inclusive messaging. 

For the Sanitation Learning Hub, we have recently committed to using the phrase 'people who menstruate' in an effort to be more inclusive of groups who may be marginalised. You can read more about it in my blog .

Thanks,

Alice
Alice Webb
Communications and Impact Officer
The Sanitation Learning Hub at the Institute of Development Studies
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  • FroggiVR
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  • Froggi VanRiper is a Graduate of Oregon State University with a PhD in Environmental Sciences (Humanitarian Engineering focus)
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Re: Women, females, menstruators - when to use which term?

Thank you to everyone here for your insights!  

To build on the above posts, I will share a small anecdote from my 2019 field research in a country in the global South:
After building a template for a household survey, the original drafting team (investigators and project manager of Northern origins, one of whom was living in the Southern area of research) debated whether to include an "other" category for gender.  For fear of confusion and/or alienating the respondent population, we left it off.  When our Southern collaborators began editing the draft, one of the first comments was that we needed an "Other" category.  I was grateful for this learning experience, which challenged my North/South assumptions.  

Among my acquaintances in the North are numerous people who identify as male or nonbinary, and who menstruate.  I appreciate seeing increasing use of the terms "people who menstruate" or "people with a uterus", as clear alternatives to gender-specific language for menstruation.  I find that both terms translate easily across languages and cultures; while one might consider them awkwardly wordy, nobody finds them confusing.  
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