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Why we don’t need period emojis

Gendered coloured codes and symbols depicting bloody pants or spotty faces only stand to perpetuate the myths surrounding our menstrual cycles

There’s no denying there’s still a massive taboo surrounding menstruation. From the tampon tax furore and women still being censored on Instagram, to companies increasingly introducing ‘period leave’ for women who find their monthly cycle unbearably painful; it seems with the widespread acknowledgement of feminism comes an obsession for us to talk about – and destigmatise – our periods.

Take Bodyform’s latest marketing campaign. Launched last week, the feminine hygiene company have chosen to open up conversations surrounding menstruation using the most millennial means possible: emojis. Peddling an online petition campaigning for the introduction of six ‘femoji’s’ into the emoji dictionary, Bodyform suggests that the introduction of the symbols into our official online lexicon would help break down taboos surrounding our ‘time of the month’, and help people express how they really feel about periods. The latest in a string of marketing campaigns from high profile organisations (others including Virgin Media and Dove), it seems companies have finally cottoned on that pushing female empowerment shifts more product than promoting personal insecurity.

Surprisingly, Bodyform isn't the first feminine product brand to take on the sexism hidden away in our iPhone keyboards. Last week also saw fellow feminine hygiene company Always launching their own bid to make emojis more inclusive with Always #LikeAGirl. A campaign aiming to highlight the fact there’s a narrow choice of career prospects in our emoji keyboards, Always suggest that the lack of diverse representation of women within our iPhones negatively affect teenage girls’ confidence. 

But can a sanitary towel company really change the game when it comes to how we discuss our periods? These are the organisations that use blue liquid in place of actual period blood in their advertising campaigns, which in itself probably does more for the socially-enforced taboo surrounding our menstrual cycles than a set of six emojis can do to counteract it. The marketing of tampons, sanitary towels and other feminine hygiene products throughout history can be described at best as problematic, with many focusing on how we can conceal the fact we menstruate as opposed to embracing it. The fact that the period is now popular does not undo decades of marketing that probably played a huge part in normalising our shame when it comes to menstruation in the first place.

It makes logical sense that one of the most acknowledged plights of fourth wave feminism has been wider recognition surrounding our bodies and menstrual cycles. For a movement largely instigated by teenage girls and young women, the first inklings of fourth wave feminism saw artists such as Arvida Byström, Rupi Kaur and Meadham Kirchhoff initially tackling the subject through their work  as they navigate the landscape of their own bodies.

However, as the fight for equal rights becomes more intersectional in its approach, many self proclaimed ‘feminist’ creatives have moved away from the discussion surrounding our body autonomy in favour of a more inclusive discussion. It makes sense; conversations focusing on the female body can often be read as transphobic, excluding women on the basis they don’t have a womb.  While there may be a huge stigma surrounding how we menstruate, our language needs to expand to acknowledge that not everyone who has a period necessarily identifies as female, or that our westernised stigmas surrounding periods are the ultimate feminist struggle.

Pink emojis depicting bloody pants, spotty faces and hot water bottles only stand to enforce the gender binary, do little to further education on bodily issues, and reduce the experiences of those who menstruate to gendered colour codes and girlish pigtails. While these conversations seemed initially progressive, shocking, and inspiring, it’s safe to say that the period is now slightly passé.