In a nod to transgender and nonbinary customers, Procter & Gamble said this week that it was removing the Venus symbol, which has historically been associated with womanhood and the female sex, from the wrappers of Always brand sanitary pads.
“For over 35 years Always has championed girls and women, and we will continue to do so,” the company said in a statement. “We’re also committed to diversity and inclusion and are on a continual journey to understand the needs of all of our consumers.”
The move followed efforts by some customers who menstruate but do not identify as female to push Always to abandon the symbol. It was applauded by some on social media for its sensitivity to the mental health of a wider range of customers.
Steph deNormand, a patient advocate for transgender health at Fenway Health, who uses the pronoun “they,” told NBC that seeing “female-coded” imagery while purchasing menstrual products could create a sense of distress for some customers. “Trans and nonbinary folks are constantly misgendered, and a gesture like this can broaden out the experiences and open up spaces for those who need the products,” they said.
The redesign was also sharply criticized on social media by some for kowtowing to a tiny population and giving in to the demands of “crazy liberals.” The skepticism was also reflected in cynical headlines about the announcement.
On social media, others pointed out that they had never seen a Venus symbol on an Always pad. Asked about this, Procter & Gamble said that only the products that currently carry the design will be affected.
The redesign was just the latest in a series of actions by companies to be more inclusive of customers who are transgender, genderqueer or nonbinary. In June, the ride-sharing company Lyft began allowing customers to share their pronouns. Mastercard also announced that it would permit customers to use their chosen name — instead of their legal name — on their cards.
Research has suggested that many younger customers are responsive to these shifts. At the South by Southwest festival in Austin in 2018, Andy Bossley, senior manager of global marketing campaigns at IBM, pointed to a study that showed that half of millennials feel that gender is a spectrum and more than half the members of Generation Z know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
“We are at this moment in marketing and advertising where the market is shifting,” Mr. Bossley said, according to the publication Marketing Dive. “The onus of this effort is going to fall on the brands and advertisers to push our media partners in the direction that we want them to go.”
But the increasing discussion of gender identity in mainstream areas of life, as well as a growing awareness of personal pronouns, have become flash points for Americans who feel that the country has gone too far in its attempts to deconstruct traditions out of cultural sensitivity.