BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Libra, a New Zealand feminine hygiene company, recently pulled a tampon commercial off the airwaves (and Internet waves) when it received a spate of negative attention for its cis-sexist advertisement depicting “real women” and… the apparent alternative: trans women.
It’s clear that the commercial is trafficking in stereotypes (“real” girl is dewy white woman, “fake” one is smug, attitudinal drag queen; both attempt to show “realness” through that superficial, timeworn indicator of femaleness: physical attractiveness), this advertisement promotes the so-called “real” girl at the expense and on the back of the “fake” one.
This poses the question of what constitutes realness and what legitimizes gender? Gender is not a binary or one-way street. It is not biologically determined and it is not an essential, unchanging variable. Gender is fluid. A woman is not a woman because she menstruates. A woman is not a woman based on her genitalia, hobbies, friends, favorite foods, colors, personal history, etc., ad infintum. If a woman identifies as a woman she is a woman
Transwomen in particular are singled out for abuse for many of the same reasons other women are, multiplied many times over. Women, being women, are bad enough (we are told). But that someone biologically born male would ‘choose’ to become female? What a pussy! Women are repulsive! Or so we are told. We live in a misogynistic society that fears weakness and so quite cowardly casts off this fear onto another group: women. We have all learned to associate weakness with women, hence justifying a hatred of women and all things considered “feminine.” And so we have the stereotypes of strong men and weak women, smart men and stupid women, stupid men and omniscient, earthy Wonderwomen. However you slice it, these are contentious stereotypes. We have all been taught to belittle the mythical “feminine” whether it’s signified by the color pink, the qualities of nurture, vulnerability orbeing a dancer instead of a football player, right down to the most unpleasantly minuscule. We have “gendered” all activities and qualities, devaluing some and idolizing others.
And so we have this ad, an ad that quite childishly derives its power from the enforced powerlessness of others. A good measure I fall back on in terms of locating prejudice is generally: Does this conception of X marginalize Y? Does the “authenticity” of one thing rely on the enforced “fakeness” of something else? Is this making someone feel bad? If all these are so, it’s generally a safe idea to consider whatever is being promoted as prejudiced. Nothing real needs to depend upon the denigration of something or someone else.
Feel free to contact Libra here about the cis-sexism of their product’s advertising.
The Daily Mail cites an apology issued by Libra officials before they pulled the clip stating that “it was never intended to upset or offend anyone,” the statement continues:
“Independent research was undertaken and the advertisement was viewed positively during that testing. Libra takes all feedback very seriously, and in response to this, we will immediately review our future position with this campaign based on the feedback received.”