The Ad Standards Community Panel recently made a determination about a complaint regarding an advertisement for Libra Period Proof Hipster Briefs. The sponsored Facebook advertisement contained the caption:
"We think our Period Proof Hipster Briefs are pretty great. Find out what other bleeders have been saying about them..."
Underneath are scrollable images with pictures of people wearing the products and reviews, such as:
"You legends are game changers, thank you so much for creating this product!" - Elise
The determination notes a sample of comments which the complainant/s made regarding the advertisement:
Instead of referring to Women as women, they referred to women as "bleeders". That is extremely sexist and derogatory term used to put down women for years. It's equivalent to using the "N" word for people of colour. I'm so shocked and I've lodged complaints with FB and directly with Libra.
Libra is referring to people who menstruate as "bleeders" reducing women to being described by a bodily function is derogatory and discriminatory. I raised this issue with Libra on the post and received a stock standard non-relevant response.
In response, the advertiser maintained:
We submit that the Facebook Ad complies with Section 2.1 of the Code [prohibiting discrimination or vilification]. There is no imagery nor words which is discriminatory, or which is degrading or vilifies women or any person on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief. Further, the language used is sensible, ordinary and in no way obscene.
Libra’s strategy to break down the stigmas and taboos surrounding periods, has not waivered. Critically, it is part of Libra’s brand DNA – bravely playing its part to normalise periods, breaking down the taboos of periods and menstrual blood in an inclusive way through language and or imagery.
Libra belief is that inclusive language acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equitable opportunities. That inclusive language seeks to acknowledge and celebrate diversity, considering with sensitivity the experiences of all people.
Describing people who menstruate as “bleeders” or “menstruators” includes all people who menstruate, intended to be inclusive, acknowledging trans men and non-binary people.
After considering both the complainant/s’ and the advertiser’s comments, the Ad Standards Panel dismissed the complaint, stating:
The Panel noted that over 99% of people that menstruate do identify as women both biologically and as their gender and considered that to identify them by a bodily function should be avoided.
Overall, however, the Panel considered that while the term “bleeders” may have the effect of identifying people by a bodily function they experience, the intention of its use is to target all individuals that menstruate and may require the use of the advertised product. The Panel considered that using such a term is representative of diversity and inclusion and is not intended to refer exclusively to women.
The Panel considered that the advertisement does not depict the women in the advertisement or women in general in a manner that is unfair or less favourable [discrimination] nor in a manner that would be likely to humiliate or incite ridicule [vilification]… and did not breach Section 2.1 of the Code.
The Panel’s decision is incredibly disappointing.
The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, recently received immense backlash for demeaning and objectifying women by describing them as ‘bodies with vaginas’. This is no different.
Women should not have to suffer dehumanising terms like ‘uterus owner’, ‘individual with a cervix’, ‘birthing person’, ‘menstruators’, ‘bodies with vaginas’ or ‘bleeders’. We are not a collection of body parts or bodily functions. This is exactly what we are trying to educate against with regard to the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls in our culture.
There is currently a concerted effort across the board to eliminate all references to ‘women’ so as to be ‘inclusive’ of trans or non-binary individuals. Curiously, we don’t see the same erasure when it comes to men, and it is the feelings and desires of biological males that are being prioritised by this doublespeak.
Some may say it’s ‘just an ad’, but the erasure of women in language is having profound ramifications when it comes to the recognition of women’s needs, vulnerabilities and rights in policy making across Australia and internationally.
We can’t keep obscuring reality in the name of inclusiveness because the actual effect is the opposite. Yes, we have to be sensitive to trans persons, but we also have to consider the harmful impact that this distortion of language is having on women and their hard-fought gains to be recognised, respected and treated equally in society.