Shopping ethically is rewarding but it can be a challenge at times! When it comes to ethical practices there are various aspects to consider - slave labour, humane treatment of animals, impact on the environment. But what about ‘sexploitation’- when companies use sexism and objectify women to sell products and services? Many of us choose not to financially support exploitative companies- should this extend to companies who sexually exploit women in their advertising?
“Advertising is a very powerful educational force. Advertising’s influence is quick, cumulative, and for the most part, it’s subconscious. Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success, and perhaps most important, a sense of normalcy. To a great extent they tell us who we are and who we should be.” – Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly 4
It’s 2016, and yet women’s bodies are still being used to sell everything from beer to burgers to organ donation.
Hyper-sexualised representations of women in advertising and mainstream media are everywhere, whether it is women posed as passive, decorative objects, being reduced to a collection of sexualized body parts, being defined by their sexual availability, or even depicted as victims of violence- but what does this mean for women and girls?
When women’s value is determined by how hot they are and what they can offer to men sexually, this isn’t a good thing for women. When women are reduced to sexual objects, when their value is based on their physical beauty and sexuality to the exclusion of other characteristics, skills and attributes, this harms women. This objectification is at the roots of many forms of gendered oppression, such as sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination and violence against women. It reinforces women’s status as second-class citizens rather than intelligent, valued people with something real to contribute to the world and as such, undermines gender equality.
“Sex sells” is the all too common refrain, but it’s not really sex that is being sold- we’re not seeing men objectified and subjugated in these same ways. What is really being sold is the sexual objectification and subordination of women, and this should be cause for concern. It is worth noting also that research by the American Psychological Association concluded that sex does not actually sell, that it does not help brand memory- it either has no effect in marketing or it hurts.
Yet given all this, advertisers continue to use sexploitation to flog products. Sure, it’s lazy, lacks creativity, potentially alienates at least half of their potential consumer base and indicates a lack of confidence in the merits of their product. As the saying goes ‘If your product was any good you wouldn’t need sexism to sell it’.
At Collective Shout, we call on advertisers, marketers, media and corporations to be better. We believe that companies have a responsibility to act ethically and to exercise corporate social responsibility to act in the best interests of women and girls. We even have our own Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge that we invite ethically minded companies to sign up to, pledging to not sexualize girls and objectify women to sell products and services.
In the lead up to Christmas we release our annual ‘Crossed Off’ list a blacklist of corporate offenders who sexualized girls and objectified women to promote themselves during the year. We encourage our supporters to vote with their wallets and refuse to financially support companies that sexually exploit women for profit- see also our Brands page for a more comprehensive list.
It’s time to hold these companies accountable for their treatment of women, and show them that sexploitation does not sell. Join us at www.collectiveshout.org to be part of our movement. If you are part of a company that values women and girls, sign up to our Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge today!
If you are looking for legal services in the Brisbane area you may want to give Logan Law a miss. Their sexist advertising has lead to complaints to the Advertising Standards Board, who have subsequently dismissed the complaints. (Probably because there is nothing in the code of ethics to address sexism)
One of their advertisements is a Faceboook post for legal services offered by Logan Law using innuendos relating to having a vehicle hit another vehicle from behind with hashtags such as "#steveo #hollyweed #loganlaw #smashedhardfrombehind #coppedoneinthebumper #beenrearendedlately #penetratingbrisbane #takenoneinthetailpipe".
The complainant said:
The majority of Logan Law's advertising has extreme sexual connotations and this is not limited to their Facebook posts, this also includes billboards seen around Brisbane which are promoted in an incredibly unprofessional manner. I find their advertising highly inappropriate.
Earlier this month Melanie and her daughter were shopping in Ringwood when they passed by a hyper-sexualised poster in the front window of a snow boarding store.
Our motto here at Collective Shout is "Silence is the language of complicity, speaking out is the language of change". And speaking out is exactly what Melanie did.Read more
We exposed Shade Sunscreen for using sexually objectifying women to advertise their products. Shade Sunscreen’s social media was dominated by sexualised images of women’s bodies and body parts. Following a single complaint, all of their Australian social media sites were suddenly taken down.
I was recently scrolling through social media when a disturbing sponsored ad showed up in my feed. It instantly didn't sit right with me. Women's body parts were featured coming out of holes in the wall, hands, feet, arms and legs with accessories and clothing dangling off them. There were no heads, no faces, just limbs.