For years, Honey Birdette sex shops have relied on sexist and objectifying representations of women to flog their products, despite claiming to empower women.
But far from “female empowerment”, Honey Birdette portrayals of women headless, faceless, bound, chained and objectified convey the exact opposite- the sexualised subjugation of women.
From advertising imagery depicting models in BDSM-style lingerie brandishing whips, to sexualised images of women accompanied by words like “Cage” and “Bound”, Honey Birdette advertising not only promotes female submission, it is increasingly suggestive of violence against women.
Honey Birdette present violence and subordination as erotic and desirable, with images of women bound, chained and with collars and leads accompanied by text “blissfully bound” and “cuff me up, baby”.
But eroticising violence against women – treating acts of aggression as sexy and erotic, or as something women secretly desire and enjoy – has serious real-world consequences for women.
Real-world consequences of eroticising violence against women
Women and girls are increasingly facing pressure to submit to violent, painful and unwanted sex acts that are normalised in pornography. A 2015 study of anal sex in young heterosexual couples revealed a “climate of coercion”. Some young men pushed their reluctant female partner to have anal sex despite believing it would likely hurt her.
A recent study from Indiana University School of Public Health found that nearly a quarter of women in the US have felt scared during sex, with a number of respondents reporting being unexpectedly choked by their partners.
UK-based campaign We Can’t Consent To This has documented sixty cases where women have been killed by men who have used “rough sex” or BDSM “sex game gone wrong” as a defence. In 45% of cases, this defence resulted in a lighter sentence, an acquittal, or a death not being investigated. This defence relies on the belief that women both consent to and enjoy ‘sex’ acts so violent and extreme that they result in their death.
In The misogyny of the so-called “rough sex” defence, authors Elizabeth Sheehy, Isabel Grant and Lise Gotell write:
Let’s be clear: the so-called “rough sex” defence is not gender neutral. The sex is “rough” for women, not men. “Rough sex” depicted in pornography and in practice is marked by gender asymmetry. It is overwhelmingly women who are on the receiving end of this violence and whose health and very lives are on the line. For example, women are two to four times more likely than men to report having experienced strangulation, a powerful predictor of intimate femicide. Yet with the cultural scripts provided by pornography, aided by liberal feminism’s championing of “sex positivity,” judges and juries can conclude that injuries, and even death, are simply accidental by-products of violent, but consensual, sex.
In a number of the cases documented by We Can’t Consent To This, women were killed by strangulation.
Men's violence against women a national emergency
Despite a growing awareness of the scourge of men's violence against women, and the reality that one woman is killed by a current or former partner every week in Australia, as well as the well-documented links between objectification and violence against women, Honey Birdette continues to promote female subordination and eroticise violence against women.
We cannot stand by while unethical corporates like Honey Birdette continue to objectify women and glamorise violence against them. Selling female sexual subordination might be profitable, but women's lives are worth more.
Dying should not be a side effect of ‘sex’- Feminist Current
Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette - ABC Religion and Ethics