Happy & bleeding?

by Helen G // 3 January 2012, 10:00

Tags: advertising, menstruation, sexism in the media, transphobia

screengrab.jpgA television commercial for Libra tampons has generated a storm of controversy across numerous social networking sites. The advert depicts two women in a nightclub restroom engaging in a non-verbal competition while putting on makeup, which ends when one woman produces her Libra tampon, at which point the other woman leaves, apparently having 'lost' the competition because she doesn't need or use tampons.

Much of the outrage I've seen has been at the depiction of one of the pair as being a caricature of transsexual/transgender (TS/TG) women and, while I empathise with that point of view, I also think that believing the ad to be transphobic and nothing more (or less) overlooks that its depiction of women generally plays on some very sexist stereotypes which are comprehensively offensive, whether you're a TS/TG or cis woman.

The transphobia seems to me to arise from the use of a combination of two timeworn (and, in some circles, long-discredited) tropes: first, the essentialist view that TS/TG women are always the gender assigned at birth and it doesn't matter how you change your external appearance, be it with cosmetics or even major abdominal surgery, you cannot change what's on the inside. The second, related, subtext is the idea that TS/TG women are really just 'men in dresses' and it's a stereotype which the ad hammers home without a shred of subtlety.

But to my mind, where the ad extends its offensiveness beyond transphobia, is in its reinforcement of the frankly naive and negative stereotypes that women are defined by their gender presentation and their reproductive capabilities. In my opinion, the insinuation that you are somehow more of a woman if you conform to patriarchal norms of how women should present themselves, with the further suggestion that you are not a "real" woman and some sort of 'loser' if you don't menstruate, is not only offensive to all women, TS/TG or cis, but it's also an insult to our intelligence as feminists.

I was going to post the YouTube archive of the ad (you can find it here) but right at this moment I think I'd rather hear PJ Harvey...

ETA: Via Stuff.co.nz, I note that Libra has apologised and withdrawn the ad. Thanks to Stephanie for the heads-up.

Comments From You

Kezia // Posted 03 January 2012 at 12:11

'I also think that believing the ad to be transphobic and nothing more (or less) overlooks that its depiction of women generally plays on some very sexist stereotypes which are comprehensively offensive, whether you're a TS/TG or cis woman.'

I'm not sure I see the logic in placing the sexist aspects of the advert above the transphobic aspects, particularly when they need not be separated at all. Intersectionality, right?

Holly Combe // Posted 03 January 2012 at 16:38

In my opinion, the insinuation that you are somehow more of a woman if you conform to patriarchal norms of how women should present themselves, with the further suggestion that you are not a "real" woman and some sort of 'loser' if you don't menstruate, is not only offensive to all women, TS/TG or cis, but it's also an insult to our intelligence as feminists

Absolutely! It's also ageist. Whether trans or cis, not all women have periods so why hold up menstruation as evidence that one of us is somehow "more womanly" than another?

@Kezia. I'm not sure I can agree that Helen was placing the sexist aspects of the advert above the transphobic ones. As with any stressing of intersectionality, it seemed to me to be more of a horizontal placing.

Jessica Marie // Posted 03 January 2012 at 16:41

Wow, this upsets me beyond belief.
As any of my friends/customers know, menstruation is kinda my thing. Its something that has been vilified since the beginning. It is something that has created a sisterhood between all women since the beginning of time and yet, since then we have been unable to utilize that bond or power because we are taught that there is something inherently wrong with menstruation.

To see a commercial in which a woman actively flashes her tampon with pride is such a deviation from the usual " Our tampons are sneakily packaged to look like candy so that no one will ever suspect if they happen to fall out of your bag, heaven forbid" aim that they normally take. It would leave me jumping for joy with excitement.

At least, that is what I thought.
But to see this huge step in advertising (which, lets face it, is a big source of cultural and social beliefs) done solely on the backbone of transphobia makes me so mad that I am literally biting my tongue. As if the underlying message of shame wasn't enough, now pride or even just acceptance of your period is ok, so long as you are putting a trans person down. There are so many profanities I want to spill out all over this computer screen.

----({*})----
For the Love of Vulva!
www.VulvaLoveLovely.com

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