Rainbow washing: Lesbians condemn Honey Birdette 'Pride' campaign

"In a world where lesbians are harassed and attacked for our sexuality, for not being available to men, this is a dangerous game to play with lesbian lives."

Honey Birdette have released their latest advertising campaign, set to coincide with the Sydney Mardi Gras festival. The campaign depicts an orgy, featuring naked men and women whose bodies are painted in the Pride colours. Many of the women included are headless, but their naked breasts made it into the frame. Below is a censored image of the campaign:


Honey Birdette has consistently delivered sexist and pornified representations of women to flog their overpriced lingerie and sex toys, ignoring 42 Ad Standards rulings against it for violating the code of ethics. But far from promoting equality, the company’s long history of porn-inspired depictions of lesbian sexuality further entrenches sexist and harmful stereotypes of lesbians as male entertainment, and these latest images will likely be enjoyed by men. 

Lesbians condemn Honey Birdette rainbow-washing

A number of lesbians have responded to Honey Birdette’s ad campaign, calling the company out for tokenising and fetishising lesbians to promote their brand.

“If there's no difference between a female nipple and a male nipple why are all but one of the visible nipples female? Using lesbians as titillation is not unusual, the pornographers have been doing it for decades. But in the real world real lesbians are tortured for our activism; real lesbians are subjected to corrective rape; and in the real world when a lesbian is raped or tortured she doesn't get to say stop. Not only are you continuing the sexualising of women, you are giving mixed messages with images of a mixed orgy.”

-Susan Hawthorne, lesbian activist and writer


“Lesbians have fought for centuries for society to understand that lesbian sexuality is not for or about men, resisting the harassment, fetishisation, corrective rape and physical attacks that lesbians here and around the world have experienced. Honey Birdette has developed a campaign that is heavily reliant on the sexualisation of lesbian bodies and the presentation of lesbian sexuality. The argument that there is no difference between male and female nipples is meaningless in a world that sexualises women so consistently.

“Calling the campaign ‘Fluid’ combined with the presentation of objectified, sexually available lesbians clearly communicates to the men watching that lesbian sexuality is fluid enough for lesbians to be sexually available to them. In a world where lesbians are harassed and attacked for our sexuality, for not being available to men, this is a dangerous game to play with lesbian lives.

“Framing opposition as conservative is to miss the point of our concerns. It is neither puritanical nor conservative to want to carve out space for lesbians to exist free of tokenism or sexual objectification in a deeply sexualised society. This campaign sells out lesbian sexuality for profit, which is not excused by the fact that Honey Birdette’s founder and her partner are the women in the shoot.

“We all want to live in a world where lesbians are safe, where lesbian lives are celebrated and where lesbian representation gives hope and strength to young lesbians working out their sexuality. Honey Birdette’s Fluid campaign takes us further away from that world.”

-Liz Waterhouse, Listening2Lesbians https://listening2lesbians.com/"

"This type of advertising further entrenches the straight-male fetishisation of lesbians, which is a huge problem. Lesbians are seen as sexual objects who are still sexually and romantically available for men (largely as a result of the pornification of lesbians and their romantic relationships) and this type of advertising only reinforces this. It also plays into homophobia by reducing gay and lesbian relationships to sex without any meaningful emotional connection - a long-held homophobic view that assumes only straight relationships can be 'real' or 'meaningful."

-Felicity, lesbian

Another poorly received PR stunt for Honey Birdette

This is not the first time Honey Birdette has attempted to capitalise on a social movement or political issue for PR purposes. In 2017, the company staged a pro-same sex marriage demonstration- a lingerie flash mob featuring models wearing Honey Birdette products and holding signs like “I heart HB”. The move was rightly slammed on social media, with one user describing the stunt as a “money grab” that was “worse than the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad”. ABC’s Media Watch described the apparent marketing ploy as “a pretty obvious attempt to hijack an issue for commercial reasons”.

Comments on Honey Birdette's Instagram account indicate the campaign has not been well received. Commenters have questioned the company's motives, labelling the marketing ploy as "insincere" and "disingenuous", and accusing the company of 'rainbow washing', a term which refers to corporates using rainbow colours or imagery to indicate support for the LGBT community but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result. 

"This is more selling sex than solidarity."

"If you swapped the homosexuals for heterosexuals I am positive you could still not this image in your Australian stores. #notaboutlgbti"

"Orgy, perfect body's, white race, no underwear. What the f*** is this? Diversity? LGBT? Doesn't look like it at all. I think it is more a slap in the face to the community." (sic)

"I don't think this shows anyone wearing honey birdette so I don't get why you have it as an advertisement other than to hope on the bandwagon of attempting to profit off pride when you can't be bothered to do anything else for equality or diversity with your company" (sic)

"...this seems very insincere and a fake attempt at selling equality. I'm seeing through the bs." (sic)

"Meanwhile you donated a measly $10,000 to QueerStories? A HB bra costs around $140. This feels much more like HB attempting to hijack a social movement to boost their own image."

"They aren't promoting true diversity since everyone just seem to have western facial features and they all have certain body figure...this isn't a promotion of diversity, it's just one of mere commercials." (sic)

See also:

Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette- ABC Religion and Ethics

Collective Shout responds to common defences of Honey Birdette sexploitation- Collective Shout

Honey Birdette's crusade to pornify the public space- Collective Shout

Honey Birdette falsehoods exposed : A Current Affair publishes our statement correcting baseless claims- Collective Shout

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