Of course, One Million Moms decided that it was a trashy ad for a number of reasons. The reason that created the most furore, however, was their complaint of the inclusion of a transgender woman (or, in their words "a man dressed as a woman") in their ad.
There is so much to unpack with this complaint I scarce know where to start. Tempting as it is to level a tsunami of derision at One Million Moms for their mistake, I feel like it speaks to a broader attitude, common even in people who couldn't be further from the right-wing nut jobs that make up the group who made the error.
During a visit home to Australia, I amused my older sister and her eldest daughter with some martial arts training. It included push-ups. When I performed a push-up my sister said, "Ew. I don't like it when women's arms have muscles that stick out like that." I'm paraphrasing, but the "Ew" is stuck in my head forever.
Don't rag on my sister. She is not alone in this view. Muscularity is considered "mannish" and "unfeminine" and therefore inappropriate and ugly on women. Women who are muscular are accused of being "men in women's clothing."
Femininity has long been associated with softness, demure murmurs, fluttered eyelashes... It's long been about goddesses, and rainbows, fairy dust and flowers. It has also long been analogous to submission, ineptitude, and weakness.
These are the things that are considered feminine, and, therefore, beautiful. And who doesn't want to be beautiful? Women are taught all their lives that beauty is something they must strive for. It will be their greatest success. So, in order to make ourselves in the image of acceptable beauty, we tend to diminish ourselves; make ourselves smaller - physically, personally, intellectually. We restrain from strength because we have been taught that being our full selves is intimidating and therefore not beautiful.
Women can't be too ambitious. It is unseemly. Women cannot be too confident. It makes them a bitch. Women cannot be too strong, or get angry, ever. It's unladylike.
We are bombarded with these messages all our lives. Is it any wonder that when faced with a badass like Fatima Pinto, some women immediately assume she must be a man? Muscularity, after all, is unfeminine.
I call bullshit.
Yes, Ms. Pinto is muscular. She is also stunningly beautiful.
Growing up, I thought that perhaps I should have been a boy. I wasn't interested in dresses and make-up. I was interested in adventuring, exploring, archery, swordplay, action movies. I didn't feel like I was boy given the wrong body. I was very much a girl. I was in the right body. But I saw what the boys were doing - all the things I wasn't allowed to do because "that's not for girls" - and I wished against wish that I could be a boy, just so I could do the things I wanted. I rebelled. The colour pink became toxic. Dresses were foul. But my rebellion was really a defeat, an acceptance of the equation that feminine = bad, incompetent, unintelligent, weak.
I know I'm not alone here. That's why Xena: Warrior-Princess was life-changing for me. Yes, it's a ridiculously campy show. But there is something there that is deeply profound. On screen, before the eyes of a girl who felt like a freak, was a tough, beautiful woman who was strong, and capable, and unapologetically angry; an avenger. She wore armour, and rode horses, and used swords. She punched and kicked her way across the screen, fighting people and gods alike.
Suddenly, what it meant to be a woman shifted.
Gone was the idea that women were meant to be submissive and demure. The idea that women must diminish themselves, and repress their emotions, and hide their strength flew out the window.
As I grew, I found more and more examples of women being their full selves. There were archaeological discoveries of women given warrior burials, buried with their weapons. There were records of women who owned land in their own right, and conducted business on their own. There were remembrances of women who broke the mould in times far more restrictive than my own.
(Plug: Rejected Princesses is a book all about that. You should go buy it. No, it's not one of mine. I just think it's a fantastic book that should be in every household.)
These were real women. Real women like me.
They were not "men in women's clothing." They were women.
What is feminine to me has shifted, by virtue of realising just how many women were bold, were strong, were fighters, killers, leaders, academics, vigilantes, outlaws and so many other things that we're told all our lives that women cannot be.
We can. We are. And we're still women.
It's long past time we discarded the ridiculous gender norms that are constricting women - and men - snapping us all into moulds that are ill-fitting, malformed, painful things that do justice to no one.
Fatima Pinto is not a man in women's clothing. She's 100% woman, and 100% badass, She is muscular. And she is beautiful. She is strong. And she is feminine.
Incidentally, the ad did have a transgender woman in it, beautiful model Hari Nef.
So, One Million Moms, I am angry at you. I am angry at mistaking strength for masculinity. I'm angry at you, but I also know that this stunningly erroneous attitude is something that has been rammed down your throats, my throat, everyone's throat - against all evidence to the contrary - for a long, long time. So I also pity you. Because I have no doubt that you've had to diminish yourselves in order to fit the mould. I am certain of it, because all the anger you've been forced to repress at your situation is now flooding out, lashing out at others who have refused to diminish. Because they will not suffer as you have.
And that makes me incredibly sad for you, One Million Moms.
Now I must go and be a woman writer of speculative fiction.