Libra’s new transphobic ad, and what you can do about it

So here’s some unnecessary and unkind rubbish in a new ad from Libra, a company selling tampons, pads and liners in New Zealand and Australia. The ad is thirty-one seconds long.

A pale, blonde, conventionally attractive woman fixes her hair while women’s voices are heard in the background. She puts her bag down as another woman walks up to the sinks where the first woman is standing. Upbeat music starts. The second woman is taller, with heavier make up and glitzier clothes. She pulls out some mascara, and there’s a close up of the first woman giving her an amused sideways glance. They both apply mascara and look at each other as though competing. Then lipgloss. Then they adjust their breasts – the first woman is clearly just toying with the second now. The first woman pulls out a Libra tampon; the second woman gives a sour look and walks off. There’s a shot of a box of Libra tampons and the slogan ‘Libra gets girls. Love Libra.’

Excuse me? They’re competing to be real women by performing conventional femininity, and then conventional femininity doesn’t really matter, only the capacity to menstruate determines genuine womanhood? Even leaving aside the implied snub to cis women who don’t bleed due to age or illness or some such, the huge smack in the face to trans women in order to police the boundaries of womanhood to sell a product is really not on.

The negative reaction to this ad, I’m happy to report, has been pretty strong, and has been spreading across social media all day – check out Libra’s Facebook wall [Edit 8 January: apparently more transphobia, including in other ads, is being posted to that wall now, just to warn you].

Wanna tell Libra exactly what to do with their ad? The Australian freecall number is 1800 806 991 and there’s a contact form on the Australian website. The New Zealand freecall number is 0800 44 62 47 and there’s a contact form on the New Zealand website. The email address for both countries is libra [at] sca [dot] com. Obviously, you don’t have to be in either Australia or New Zealand to email.

If you’re wondering about what to say, you can model your response off mine:

To whom it may concern,

I’m writing to voice how unhappy I am with your new ad in which a cisgender woman pokes fun at a trans woman for not menstruating. It sets up a divide between those who menstruate as “real women” and those who don’t as fake ones. It also plays into the idea that trans women can only want and fail to emulate a very particular kind of appearance, through the competition with make up and such. As a cis woman who menstruates, I really don’t feel comfortable being positioned as somehow more legitimate than my friends who suffer serious discrimination and violence for who they are, and whose gender identity is not a joke. Please don’t use this ad, and in future don’t rely on this kind of thinking to promote your products. I’d appreciate a company statement on the matter and your future direction along these lines.

Sincerely, [sign]

ETA: There’s also Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau (cheers, Li!) and New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Authority.

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, media, social justice

Tags: , , , ,

31 replies

  1. This is what I wrote.

    Just wanted to let you know that I won’t be using any of your products until you pull and apologise for your transphobic ad. I expected better of your company and I suggest that you find a new advertising team.

    On the Facebook page there are the usual comments of ‘I have a transgender friend and [zie] wasn’t offended by this…you are all overreacting’. Fortunately there are also lots of people expressing their disgust.

  2. Thanks for the heads up.
    One of my co-workers has just started the long hard road to transition, and she most definitely doesn’t need shit like this telling her she’ll never be a woman.
    I’ve given them a serve on their contact form, does anyone know if this kind of thing changes minds in advertising agencies?

  3. It’s worth noting that Libra is part of Libresse and operates under different names throughout Europe in particular.

  4. Libra is already on my “don’t buy” list (because I found their tampons unpleasant to wear) but this is a whole other kind of unpleasant.

  5. You can a complaint with the Advertising Standards Bureau.

    2. Section 2 Consumer Complaints
    2.1 Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.

  6. My response was:
    I’m not a girl. I’m not even a woman. (Not many girls I know menstruate, but then I don’t know many girls.) However I do have a uterus, and it gives me hope for the world that the first thing I heard about your new commercial was my friends – women and men alike, and very few of them trans – expressing their outrage over you using transphobia as a punchline for a joke. You don’t “get” girls if you think that ad would go down well. You also don’t “get” basic human decency. You see, in New Zealand, we’ve realised that LGBT are people. In fact, we’re even allowed to hold jobs without having to fear getting fired! So it would be really, really great if I could also watch tv without someone using me for the kind of dirty, malicious advertising they inexplicably think will sell products.
    I’m not a joke, and neither are trans women.

  7. And I thought the ads for sharehouses were transphobic enough. Things like this ad makes bigots feel culturally supported in their discrimination.

    I really like your response, Chris. Mine was a lot shorter, with a lot more expletives.

  8. Here is the FreeTV Australia Commercials Advice Code of Practice guideline Libra is in breach of: 
    Proscribed Material
    1.9 A licensee may not broadcast a program, program promotion, station identification or community service announcement which is likely, in all the circumstances,
    1.9.6 provoke or perpetuate intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or group of persons on the grounds of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion or sexual preference;

  9. Thanks again hoydens. A friend linked to this article so I have written them a note and posted it to our FB page.

  10. The AAP story (link to SMH version) is interesting in that it actually notes that the majority of people defending the ad are men: “A handful of supporters, all men, defended the ad, saying the criticisms were political correctness gone crazy.”
    Sadly, there’s then what appears to be a non-deliberately-ironic cisfail in assuming that men don’t menstruate, but I don’t really have very high expectations of journalists when it comes to covering anything trans* related.

  11. I received a response from Libra today. It reads:

    Dear Rebecca,

    Libra regrets any offence taken to our recent tampon advertisement. It was never intended to upset or offend anyone.

    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. There are no further advertisements scheduled in New Zealand.

    The advertisement has not aired in Australia. The advertisement was placed on Facebook however this has also been removed.


  12. I got the same response.
    Maybe they’ll choose their focus groups more carefully, who knows.
    It is fairly standard response to negative feedback I expect, based on what they say on Gruen….

  13. A bit of a fauxpology I thought.

  14. Indeed. I mean, obviously no one thought it was intended to be offensive to people, we thought they just didn’t think of trans women as people.

  15. From Libra’s letter to Rebecca:
    The advertisement has not aired in Australia.
    This is an outright lie. Either that, or someone is horribly misinformed; I saw it in a Hoyts cinema in Perth on Boxing Day. 😦 I’m so relieved that people are up in arms about it.

    • A hateful pile of festering bilge submitted at 8.11am has been trashed, but since it looks like it’s stuff that a bigot might copy-paste all over the ‘net, I’ll just point out one particular line that should discredit all the rest of it, in case readers see it elsewhere:

      Libra removed the advertisement and issued an apology MONTHS ago. Yet [deliberate misspelling of ‘trans’ redacted] continue to act as if that removal and that apology never took place.

      No, Libra did not remove this ad months ago, at least not here in Australia and New Zealand. The post directly above mine (published last night) is from a person who saw it in a cinema in Australia just over a week ago. There’s a link further upthread to a New Zealand news article discussing this ad being pulled by Libra in NZ only two days ago.
      If there’s anybody obsessing over the same thing over and over again in this incident it’s people who post lies like that.

  16. Following up on my last comment: I replied to the form email, calling them out on the ‘not aired in Australia’ line. They replied remarkably quickly, — and I think I even got a person — saying that it had never been broadcast on Australian TV, and that it was being pulled from Australian cinemas as soon as was feasibile, which they said was 5 January.
    I’m calling that a win! 🙂

  17. I hope the Gruen Transfer follow this up in their next season as I wonder if sales will be affected (up or down) because they got a lot of free publicity over this. Could even have been the original intent….

    • I’ve been looking to see if Mumbrella has written it up at all, but they didn’t seem to have when I checked earlier today.

  18. Very sad Libragate. Stayfree here I come.

  19. Tigtog: as Chally pointed out in the original post, Libra is specific to Australia and New Zealand. So when you point out, No, Libra did not remove this ad months ago, at least not here in Australia and New Zealand. – that is likely to be the entire market this ad was made for.
    Because I lived for a time in the US, I know that feminine hygiene products have a surprising amount of cultural variation – not only was there not a single brand name in common between Aus and US, the vast majority of US tampons come with cardboard insertion tubes. I was quite relieved when I found a brand without cardboard (because I found the cardboard incredibly wasteful, particularly as it was more comfortable for me to pull the tampon out of it and insert with my finger as I was used to). I have no idea what American women who move to Australia do – maybe there are special import places where they can get brands with the cardboard tubes?
    And very few people seem to know this kind of cultural trivia because One Does Not Talk About That Kind Of Thing. But that’s how I know that even with the possibility of replacing the last still in the ad with a different brand name, it wasn’t made for the US market because what the woman on the right pulls out of her handbag wouldn’t be recognised as a tampon in the US. Not to mention that at least when I lived there, no way would an ad be that BLATANT! about tampons. (I don’t know about British/European tampon styling and attitudes, so I suppose it’s possible there was a version there.)

  20. And perhaps of interest, the (self-identified) drag queen in the ad speaks up here:
    I think he completely misses the point: the ad does NOT present itself as competition between a drag queen and a cis woman – the ad seems to be taking place inside a women-only toilet/bathroom. And why would a drag queen be upset (to the extent that the facial expression she makes is upset – it certainly seems a concession of defeat) about the fact that women menstruate?
    And I’m a bit boggled about the idea that the mere presence of a drag queen in an ad is huge progress – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen ads with drag queens (in Aus/NZ) before. Does Sandy Crack really not appreciate that lots of people (not just trans women) want the ad to do better than mere presence? Isn’t that a good thing?

  21. @AotQ
    There was a brand with applicators about 20yrs ago which was sold as being ‘more hygenic’. Don’t know if they are still around, haven’t used them for years.

  22. Oh god. Just visited their facebook page. Putting it out there, that link might need a trigger warning because of the “LOL hilarious!! !” ads featuring trans women from other companies that people are posting on it.
    *rages silently*

  23. That’s sad to hear. Will edit.

  24. Being cynical, I reckon this ad was intentionally offensive. A while back, an ad for Always (a UK-brand of sanitary towels) circulated, which featured various transwomen (drag queens?) weeping because they were not able to use such a ‘fantastic’ product. Now, Always claimed this ad was created by an ad company as part of a pitch and they never authorised its release, but nonetheless it created a big furor. And, I find it surprising that, even in this big old planet, that another company selling such a similar product would have failed to hear about that. So I tend to think that sometimes these companies see ‘all publicity as good publicity’.

  25. Chally: Jadey’s thoughts are a more eloquent version of my thoughts. Feminist Avatar: I wonder that too, sometimes. On the other hand, I can very easily imagine a bunch of cismen in a brainstorming session coming up with “connections” between menstruation products and transwomen (or drag queens). All that weird stuff to do with girls, you know.

  26. I saw the print ad for the Libra campaign yesterday in the loos at my local multiplex (in outer suburban Melbourne).

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