Free from ‘toxic chemicals.’ Not free from toxic messages
Last week, 15 girls aged 14-16, and involved with Fusion Mornington Peninsula’s Real Girls program, took on Australian make-up and skincare brand Frank Body over its lip and cheek ‘Send Nudes’ product.Read more
Gone in 24 hours. But why does this keep happening?
Well that was quick.
On Tuesday afternoon I posted on my social media pages this hoodie for primary school aged boys.
It was found in the Canberra outlet store of surf style chain shop Quiksilver, which describes itself as ‘The World’s Leader in Snow and Surf Clothing’ by Rachel Grant. She’s a mum who was looking for clothes for her 6 and 9-year-old sons who were with her. She then told me about her unfortunate discovery on the rack of clothing in her son’s sizing.
Quiksilver was about to become a world leader in objectified and sexualised clothing for little boys.
At a time when we are (at last) having a global discussion about the mistreatment of women and girls, calling out the bad behaviour of so many predators, gropers, sexual abuse apologists and general thugs and with governments adding in new budget items for respectful relationships programs in schools, corporates like this go about their merry misogynistic ways, creating fashion items which enmesh objectification of women and male entitlement in the culture.
Supporters went into action immediately – women like mother, grandmother and teacher Lisa Ashdowne who wrote in part: “I’m writing to make a complaint about the messages your products and advertising send our children, girls and boys, about who they are in the world, how they should think and behave, where they belong in society, the value they hold for themselves and for others – living in Torquay, I am faced daily with the overriding message that boys and men are valued for their skills and effort in surfing and girls and YOUNG women are valued when they are skinny, semi-naked…being on display, not valued for anything other than another’s pleasure. I will be actively campaigning against your company until your values and guiding principles change and they are EXPLICITLY demonstrated in your products and your communications at all levels”.
Then, the next day, supporters began receiving this message.
I’ve thanked Quiksilver for their prompt response. And they deserves thanks.
But activist Melinda Liszewski, whose has been working with me in cultural jamming actions for more than a decade, asks this pointed question on twitter:
That’s the thing, isn’t it. There are people who decided that plastering semi naked women on a jumper for little boys, suggesting those women are a ‘paradise’ for them to enjoy, is acceptable. There were entire design/buying/marketing departments determining that turning little boys into walking billboards for spreading harmful ideas about women and girls was fine. Where is the quality control? The ethics? The corporate social responsibility?
It’s great to go into the New Year with a win straight up. And we are thankful when companies respond to community concern. But we must remain vigilant and keep fighting until there is genuine change at every level.
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!