Honey Birdette is dealing in misinformation and objectification
Channel 9's program A Current Affair featured a segment covering the complaints against Honey Birdette's sexualised advertising in shopping centres. Kenneth Thor, who started a petition against Honey Birdette's advertising after his children were exposed to sexualised content while shopping was interviewed.
Honey Birdette's CEO declined to be interviewed for the program, instead issuing a statement which A Current Affair has published on its website. Predictably, the statement contains a number of misrepresentations. We respond to the statement, point by point below.
“It has come to my attention that Collective Shout have been lobbying again regarding our female led and empowering brand.”
"Female led and empowering"
In 2016 former employees launched a petition “Not YOUR Honey - Honey Birdette Workers Need Safe Workplaces!” in which they describe their time at Honey Birdette as “a nightmare.” They allege unpaid work, bullying and intimidation from management and sexual harassment from customers. One of the most troubling allegations is that management instructed employees to put up with sexual harassment from men and to “turn that into a sale.”
As a result of this petition Worksafe visited 14 stores and found breaches of health and safety laws in every one.
Furthermore, employee reviews at Glassdoor complain that they were required to wear and pay for current Honey Birdette lingerie out of their own pocket.* Staff are also required to wear heavy make up and stiletto heels.
Is this empowering? From the employee petition:
“Honey Birdette's management pretend they're all about empowering women, but they've sacrificed their values and put their workers in physical danger just to make a profit.”
*According to Fairwork, Employers cannot require staff to purchase the clothing stocked in a retail outlet, even if they receive a staff discount. Retail workers who have been forced to buy clothing with their own money should contact Fairwork for assistance.
“And this is from the group that equated wearing lace with rape, see Collective Shout campaigner and Journalist, Sherele Moody.”
No one has made this claim.
“And the same group that attempted to create controversy from a charitable cancer fundraiser we have championed and delivered for the past three years. We raised 30k in five days by donating all sale of the Whitney Pink stocking to an Australian breast cancer foundation.”
The McGrath Foundation requested Honey Birdette pull down an ad campaign displaying the McGrath logo alongside sexualised content. This included an instruction manual for checking breasts full of sexual innuendo and pouting Honey Birdette models. The McGrath Foundation said this marketing was not in line with an agreement they had with the brand.
“The same group, who have been targeting Honey Birdette for the past ten years are known to engineer outrage in order push a repressive agenda, which calls for a much stricter and far reaching censorship regime for women. “
Non-compliance with Ad Standards
We have campaigned for Honey Birdette to comply with the same advertising standards as any other retailer. The company has breached ad standards 38 times. In response to Ad Standards Honey Birdette either ignores the determinations or lashes out publicly while escalating the sexualised nature of their advertising.
Collective Shout has also campaigned for the advertising industry as a whole - not just Honey Birdette - to recognise the harms of sexual objectification in the ad industry code of conduct.
“In reference to the model. She is a model that is empowered by the product that she is wearing and that we sell in-store. In order to sell it (like any other retailer) we need to show it. “
Other than the models who are being paid to wear the product, the mechanism by which women are supposed to be “empowered” by underwear is unclear. However an individuals underwear preference is not our concern. The issue is porn-themed, sexualised advertising in the public space.
Honey Birdette also sells masturbation aids for men and butt plugs. Does Honey Birdette intend to advertise these in shop windows too, since “in order to sell it we need to show it”?
“If a model in an advertisement is confident it doesn't automatically mean that she is "soft porn" or "sexually objectified". It means that she is simply a model advertising lingerie for a lingerie store and is not ashamed to be confident or empowered. Referring to her as porn is highly offensive to the model, to women, and to 2019.”
The model appearing “confident” does not offset the harms of sexual objectification in advertising.
Sexual objectification refers to the portrayal of someone - even if they are confident - as an object for someone else’s sexual gratification.
Advertising focused on body parts, emphasising sexual appeal with models who are virtually interchangeable in appearance meets this criteria. We note that its only thin fair skinned, cosmetically enhanced 20+ year old models that Honey Birdette portrays as “empowered and confident.”
As a sex shop, Honey Birdette uses porn-themes to advertise lingerie, as evidenced by the recent BDSM ad campaign and the fact they sell sex toys.
We find the claim that 2019 is offended puzzling. The year 2019 is a number denoting the number of years in the Gregorian calendar. A number is an abstract concept and cannot feel, or be offended.
“The female form not a matter of vulgarity or indecency.”
No one has made this claim.
“Finally, Honey Birdette is passionate about equal rights in advertising for women, whilst also respecting community values. See our campaign above which gained over 70,000 signatures in 48 hours.”
Honey Birdette repeatedly violates community standards by refusing to comply with advertising standards that every other retailer is expected to abide by.
“To be frank, I am not in the business of offending the customer or community. I am in the business of empowering women's bodies.”
Like any other retailer, Honey Birdette is in the business of making a profit. It appears the CEO believes they can only make a profit by projecting porn-themed images and footage of women in the public space to an audience which includes children. The CEO has demonstrated a persistent unwillingness to abide by ad standards and therefore community standards.
"Empowering women's bodies"
"She appropriates female sexuality for profit, she does not want to empower women she wants to exploit them.
She does not like larger women and has fired employees because they don't look like her ideal woman. She is a dirty old man" - review June 25, 2019
“I will not and nor will our supporters succumb to anti-women hysteria and notions of a women bodies being prone to violence because of what they are wearing.”
No one has made the claim that women are prone to violence because of what they are wearing. The claim that women being outspoken and advocating for other women and girls is a manifestation of ‘hysteria’ is an outdated and offensive, sexist trope.
“Honey Birdette is NOT a champion of explicit nudity, unequal power dynamics or overly sexualised poses in outdoor space and we are certainly not in the business of offending the community.”
“There will be nipples and plenty of them” - Business News Australia, 14 June
Advertising Standards Community Panel Case Report:
“...the sheer fabric gave the appearance that the woman’s labia are visible and that she has no pubic hair. ”
“the visibility of the woman’s nipples and belly button through the fabric added to the impression that the shadowing in this area was indicative of the woman’s vulva being visible.”
“most people in the community, including those who would view this advertisement, would find it confronting for an advertisement to feature images of genitals in advertising” - 22 May, 2019 Case number 0142/19
Honey Birdette response:
“Due to the fast fashion nature of our business the artwork in our windows are changed on a regular basis. This image was removed weeks ago.”
"Unequal power dynamics"
Advertising Standards Community Panel Case Report:
"the images depict an ‘office party’…the women appear in lingerie while the men are in suits …there is a certain sexual connotation inferred in the image that the women are attending the party as entertainment for the men … there is a strong level of sexual appeal as the women are dressed in lingerie.
…it is impossible to tell if the women are intended to be attending the party as colleagues or as strippers but in the Board’s view there was an obvious imbalance between the men and the women." - 11 November, 2017 Case number 0514/17
“We care about women's rights, we care wholeheartedly about championing women and them embracing their bodies, not teaching them to be ashamed of them and I am sure your viewers feel the same.”
"Bullying, intimidation, unethical and expecting workers to exploit their own bodies to make sales" - review 5 October 19
"The company pretends to value feminism and empowerment, but treats their employees like dirt and their customers like stupid cult members." - review 21 October, 2019
"The constant harassment from male customers and the attempted phone sex from men. Not to mention the pressure to wear stilettos and the strain they have on your feet." - review 30 May, 2019
"They also asked if I was a virgin and when I lost it in my interview. Which is completely unprofessional and illegal." review Mar 20, 2019
Sexual objectification is not empowering - see for yourself
Read the petition launched by former employees Not YOUR Honey: Honey Birdette employees need safe workplaces
Read the research on the harms of sexual objectification:
Read the research on the sexualisation of girls: