Breast cancer charity forces Honey Birdette to pull sexualised images from fundraiser

Promotional content "not in line with our agreement" says McGrath Foundation

We recently wrote about Honey Birdette sexually objectifying women in the name of breast cancer awareness. 'Sexing up breast cancer: Honey Birdette's pinkwashing' highlighted the sex shop's long history of unethical conduct, forcing an audience of all-ages to view its hyper-sexualised porn-themed advertising.

Honey Birdette - a sex shop masquerading as a lingerie store in suburban shopping centres - has ignored and breached Ad Standards for over a decade. So it was of concern to us at Collective Shout to now see Honey Birdette use the logo of the McGrath Foundation - a charity funding breast care nurses to attend to breast cancer sufferers free of charge - to legitimise their unethical, anti-woman activities.

Following publication of our article and a letter outlining our concerns sent to the foundation, the McGrath Foundation confirmed that Honey Birdette had "not acted in line with the agreement" they had with the company.

"The McGrath Foundation relies on the generous donations of the Australian public and corporate partners to fund McGrath Breast Care Nurses that support people with breast cancer and their families around the country.

We are very grateful for the funds raised by our supporters during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October.

We are aware of some complaints in response to our supporter Honey Birdette’s promotional content. This content has been removed as it is not in line with our agreement with them.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention."

As a result, much of Honey Birdette's promotional material featuring the McGrath logo was immediately removed from shop window and website advertising.

Honey Birdette CEO responds

Rather than apologise to the McGrath Foundation for breaching an agreement, Honey Birdette's CEO Eloise Monaghan chose to lash out at Collective Shout on social media for exposing them. 

Taking to Facebook and Instagram, Monaghan made a number of misleading statements about our article, calling our critique of breast cancer pinkwashing campaigns "sad, desperate and terrifying." 

As a result of these social media posts, we were inundated with insulting comments from Honey Birdette fans, including some Honey Birdette employees. The onslaught wasn't just restricted to Collective Shout's official social media pages, insulting and intimidating messages were also sent via private messages to individual campaigners and supporters who shared their views online, including those who disclosed they had survived the disease. Common themes included that we are “prudes” who hate sex, are ugly and undesirable, middle aged and ‘old.’

Considering the average age of breast cancer diagnosis is 61 years old, using age as an insult in the course of defending a breast cancer fundraiser is more than a little ironic.

In further misleading statements published in the Courier Mail, Monaghan suggested Collective Shout had claimed "raising money for cancer is sexual." She also argued that our campaign against sexual objectification was based on an objection to women's nipples. This is a false claim she's made repeatedly, which we've had to correct many times on our website and social media. 

Once again, the facts

Since 2010, Collective Shout supporters have submitted complaints against many sexualised and sexually objectifying ads, produced by many different companies, for consideration by Ad Standards. While some complaints were upheld, others were not, on the basis that there were no visible genitals.

We considered that Ad Standards’ approach - permitting the display of sexist and sexually objectifying representations of women simply because there were no nipples showing - missed the point and was completely inadequate. We argued - and continue to argue - that treating women as sexual props harms women, regardless of whether their nipples can be seen.

Over the last few years however, Honey Birdette ads have become increasingly pornified and revealing. Models are often posed in sheer lingerie, revealing both nipples and genitals. Ad Standards’ Community Panel has upheld complaints against ads on this basis.

"the sheer material of the bottom half of the bodysuit is transparent and the woman’s pubic mound is clearly visible. ...the bodysuit is high cut and a part of the woman’s pubic mound is uncovered and also visible. ...explicit and is inappropriate for the relevant broad audience which would likely include children." - Advertising Standards Panel determination 

In response, Monaghan has misrepresented Collective Shout’s objection to sexist advertising as an objection to nipples, omitting the fact that we have objected to many Honey Birdette ads which do not expose nipples and genitals. Absurdly, Monaghan also accused Collective Shout of equating nipples with violence.

Collective Shout has never argued the issue is nipples; this is a benchmark set by Ad Standards. We have always argued the issue is sexual objectification, and thus - since the last amendment to the AANA Code in March 2018 - in clear breach of 2.2(b) for that reason - ie, employing sexual appeal “in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group of people”.

Despite correcting the record several times, Monaghan persists with this misrepresentation, perhaps to avoid facing up to the serious  issues raised about the company's conduct. 

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The fact that Monaghan (as stated in the Courier Mail) thinks Collective Shout "wouldn't touch" the ad campaign due to its use of a breast cancer charity speaks volumes about the intent of the campaign. Breast cancer charities exist to help women suffering breast cancer and to fund research for a cure. Using a breast cancer charity logo to legitimise unethical, anti-woman activities - in violation of an existing agreement with that charity - is not “doing something good." Using a charity as a "shield" against criticism is as low as it gets. 

If Honey Birdette is truly “trying to do the right thing” they will face up to their own unethical practices, withdraw their attack on Collective Shout supporters and breast cancer survivors and publish an apology to the McGrath Foundation. It's the least they can do.

See also:

Objecting to the sexualisation of girls is not the same as objecting to sexuality: a response to false claims

Petition: STOP Honey Birdette using porn-style advertising in your family friendly shopping centres


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