According to the Courier Mail, Honey Birdette founder Eloise Monaghan is “incensed” that Ad Standards is investigating a complaint against an image on the sex shop's Instagram page.
The image, captioned "The ultimate bondage babe", portrays the semi-naked body of a woman in bondage gear from behind, with her naked backside featured prominently.
The complaint to Ad Standards reads:
This is a sexualised, sexually objectifying image of a woman to sell a product. The woman’s face is not shown, just a sexualised representation of her body.
Her body and sexual appeal are therefore treated as representing her whole self and defining her worth ... Images that sexualise and objectify women, and determine a woman’s value based on her sexual appeal and physical attractiveness, have been proven to harm women in a range of ways.
Instagram is a platform intended for users aged 13 and above. It is one of most popular social media websites for teens. It is also well known that many users are below the age of 13.
Monaghan, who is apparently no longer in the role of CEO, told the Courier Mail this complaint should be of concern to the broader community.
“My God, talk about the invasion of Ad Standards. Soon they’re going to be monitoring our text messages, what we’re wearing," she said.
At no time did Monaghan engage with the substance of the complaint- that a sexualised and objectifying image of a women in bondage attire was posted on a social media platform popular with children. Instead, she responded with outrage at being subjected to the same process as every other advertiser in the country. Does Monaghan believe that ad standards don’t apply to Honey Birdette?
Monaghan’s repeated attempts to frame Australian advertising standards as overly strict are completely at odds with reality. Far from Monaghan’s claims of censorship, the current self-regulated system permits ads that blatantly sexualise, demean and exploit women. The Australian system gives free rein to the sex industry to target children, from allowing strip club billboards to be erected outside schools, to ads for pornography and prostitution complete with URLS to live-streamed sex acts permitted on the very buses that take kids to and from school. The president of the Australian Medical Association has slammed Ad Standards for sexualising and failing to protect children. In 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs in its report put the ad industry on notice that it had one last chance to clean up its act.
Just last month, Ad Standards ruled this Honey Birdette image of a woman's headless torso in BDSM apparel, complete with handcuffs, was appropriate viewing for children.
Does this really sound like an overly strict system? Or even an effective one?
While Monaghan falsely claims Honey Birdette ads are being “censored” in Australia – even as they are on display – when it comes to addressing sexist advertising, Australia lags behind a number of more progressive countries. Paris, London and Geneva have all banned sexist and discriminatory ads. Ads including sexist stereotypes, and degrading, dehumanising or offensive representations of women and men, or images that adversely affect human dignity, are not permitted. A city in Norway banned adverts featuring semi-naked women that could contribute to body image issues in young people. In Berlin, the state government moved to ban all sexist advertising on state-owned spaces. Sweden introduced guidelines to prevent sexist and racist advertising. In 2018, Rio de Janeiro introduced laws against sexist ads with hefty fines for violators, ranging from $10,000 to $200,000, with repeat offenders facing fines of up to $400,000. While all of these governments have taken action to eradicate harmful sexist advertising, Australia’s system of self-regulation is weak, unenforceable, and has no penalties for non-compliance.
Monaghan’s framing of ad industry regulation as overly restrictive is entirely disingenuous given she knowingly and consistently disregards advertising standards by broadcasting sexist and pornified representations of women to an all-ages audience, without consequence. To date, Ad Standards have investigated complaints against 89 Honey Birdette ads, upholding complaints 43 times. Monaghan refuses to comply with rulings, she rarely provides responses and when she does, she uses Ad Standards case reports to abuse, insult and intimidate complainants.
All of this is made possible by a failed system of advertising industry self-regulation. Time and again, the industry has proven it cannot be trusted. Unethical corporates like Honey Birdette will sexualise and objectify women for profit as long as we allow it. It’s time to say no more.