Japanese sexual health product store Michi Kake introduced "period badges" as a way to eradicate the stigma of menstruation, but not everyone's too excited about the idea.
Even in 2019, I think we can all agree that menstruation is still a pretty big taboo, no matter where in the world you go. Whether it's as small as young girls hiding their pads or tampons when they head to the bathroom for a quick change or as something as serious as the underdiagnosis of painful conditions like endometriosis, periods are stigmatized in a way that other natural processes aren't. In an effort to combat this unwarranted stigma, Japanese sexual health product company Michi Kake, based in the city of Osake, asked their female employees to wear "period badges" to indicate when they're on their period. So far, reactions have been pretty mixed — and for good reason.
However, let's start with the good before getting to the ugly. Absolutely anything we can do tackle the taboo of menstruation and get people to speak up about it, loudly and with no hesitation, is a step in the right direction. Whether that's systemically through teaching no-BS sex education in school, for instance, or introducing "period badges" to incite a customer's curiosity and challenge their discomfort with periods, there are lots of ways to eradicate the taboo. In order to battle the stigma, there is no doubt that we've got to be loud, out, and proud about it. Moreover, the badges feature Seiri-chan, a cartoon character that has become known as a symbol for periods and the menstrual cycle in Japan. With that in mind, the period badges are a great way to do this.
But here's what Michi Kake gets wrong, sadly. First of all, "female" employees aren't the only ones who might get periods. Some women, because of conditions like PCOS, don't get a period at all. In a global society that centers womanhood around the ability to have a period, these badges might isolate women and make them feel less than when they're anything but. Moreover, women aren't the only ones with uteruses. Trans men with uteruses can get periods too, but they may not be at liberty to slap on a period badge like their cis counterparts. Again, this may make them feel isolated.
Secondly, the company suggested that those wearing the period badges could get extra help or longer breaks, which seems rather patronizing. Instead of a badge, the leadership at Michi Kake should be asking whether staff who get periods have access to menstrual leaves (an optional, paid form of leave) and free menstrual products within the store, both methods of ensuring menstrual equity without placing the burden of erasing the stigma of periods on employees. Nonetheless, in an interview with WWD Japan, store manager Takahiro Imazu stated, "In Japan, there is a tendency for women's sexuality and periods to be subjects 'not to be mentioned.' Not all customers will react positively to [this shop], but the fem tech boom is growing, and the values of young people are changing with it. I might be going a little far in saying this, but I am excited for it to become a shop for solutions for women's sensitive needs, and to be an asset to the marketplace." Let's hope Michi Kake's period badges leave everyone feeling empowered — rather than isolated.