A Tampon Alone Does Not a Lady Make

A New Zealand tampon manufacturer unwittingly makes the case that menstruation is essential to womanhood. I disagree.

Jan 3, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

So! Libra is a brand of tampons sold in New Zealand, I hear, and they’ve recently put out this commercial. 

In the event you can’t watch it, the clip goes like this: Two women stand at the counter in a public restroom. One of these women is either trans, or a drag queen. The other is evidently meant to evoke your standard run-of-the-mill ladyborn lady. They both primp before the mirror, the ladyborn lady giving a sanctimonious little smirk, as though she is embarrassed by her companion’s efforts toward femininity. They apply makeup competitively, and adjust their tits. Then ladyborn whips out a tampon, at which point her opponent sulkily leaves.

See, the idea is that LADIES MENSTRUATE, and non-menstruating people are failing at ladyness. Monthly bleeding from the crotch wins! Hooray!

Obviously, lots of folks don’t find this ad problematic in the least; after all, the tampon company approved it. But I think it’s troubling on a few levels, its apparent transphobia being part of a larger issue.

What this ad really does, in my opinion, is position femininity and womanhood as something that must be owned and defended by “real” women. It sets up a competition in which femininity is a prize, a trophy that is earned by having the right plumbing, and by knowing how to do lady-things, like apply mascara, or effectively fluff one’s dirty pillows.

But who decides what counts as a “real” woman?

If we’re assuming that menstruation is absolutely necessary, the implications don’t simply come down against the right-to-womany-ness of trans women, but also ANY women who do not menstrutate -- and there are lots of reasons why a woman might not have regular periods (it's also worth noting that there are plenty of folks who do menstruate but who do not identify as ladies).

Essentially the ad seems to argue that periods are good because they make women unavoidably women, when what makes a woman is in fact a complicated mixture of identity and presentation. 

I expect Libra thought this was somehow positive, that showing periods as a beneficial thing proving one’s “true” femininity would make bleeding chicks feel better about themselves. But the result is an ad that instead portrays womanhood as the sole domain of women who bleed, and thereby suggests that trans folks (or drag queens, for that matter) are sullying the good name of ladydom by being pretenders to the vaginal throne.

In their defense, Libra has just put out a statement pulling the ad from all markets, and apologizing for any misunderstanding or offense. Even if the ad is amusing on a base level -- and I can see why many people watching it without a critical eye might think so -- I think it reinforces a view of womanhood and femininity that is ultimately limiting and damaging to all lady-identifying individuals, bleeders or no. Thus, I’m happy to see it removed from the airwaves.

How about you?