Tampon company Libra is the latest brand to face online lobbying against its advertising, as a petition calling for the immediate removal of a “female stereotyping” ad gains momentum.
The print ad, which was featured on public toilet doors, promotes the company’s sanitary pad products with the tagline: “Absorbs way more than you ever did in maths class.”
Fair Agenda, the organisation previously behind a campaign to pressure Myer to pull super skinny ‘Winx’ dolls from its shelves, has gained close to 1650 signatures on an online petition against the ad.
The organisation says many of the signatories are professionals from the maths and science sectors who are concerned about the message the ad sends to young girls, which they say stereotypes female involvement in those sectors.
The petition received 500 signatures in the first 48 hours of being posted – one of the fastest campaigns ever run by the activist group.
Last month, female scientists and mathematicians spoke out against the ad, with University of Sydney mathematics professor and laureate fellow Nalini Joshi telling The Australian the ad was tantamount to bullying.
“This is the way bullies work at school, by trying to separate you from the group and barraging you with messages that you don’t belong,” said Professor Joshi.
Renee Carr, executive director of Fair Agenda, told SmartCompany a number of people who work in the maths and science sectors have specifically mentioned the impact these kinds of biases have had on their careers.
One of the comments on the petition from a signatory named Helen reads: “I am a medical doctor and have worked as a research scientist. We don’t need more negative ads telling women and girls that they can’t do maths. It’s offensive, untrue and unnecessary.”
Another comment from a woman named Melanie reads: “As a female engineer I still doubt my mathematics ability. This is the last thing young impressionable girls need when they have just hit the uncertainty of puberty.”
Carr says one of the organisation’s members, Elke Wakefield, started the campaign after she saw the ad in a public toilet at the cinema.
“She works at a university, so she sees the underrepresentation of women around the faculty,” says Carr.
Renée Adams, professor of finance at the University of New South Wales School of Business and Commonwealth Bank chair in finance, told SmartCompany this sort of stereotyping has long-term effects on the career outcomes of women.
Adams is working on research that relates the gender gap in primary and tertiary education to the number of women who appear on the boards of banks across the world.
“Our evidence is that the pattern is striking,” says Adams, who points out there is no evidence suggesting women are biologically inferior at math.
“It’s absolutely harmful, reinforcing stereotypes leads to reinforcing women’s lack of confidence.”
Adams says we need to address the underrepresentation of women early on.
This is not the first time SCA Hygiene, parent company of Libra, has come under fire for its advertising, with at least 16 cases lodged with the Advertising Standards Bureau against different campaigns – although all have so far been dismissed by the watchdog.
Carr says both Wakefield and Fair Agenda have asked to meet with Libra, but the hygiene company has not taken up the request.
SmartCompany contacted Libra but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Carr says if Libra does not pull the ads in the following weeks, they will go back to signatories and discuss what action to take next.