Sex shop brand's female face a front for male profiteers
Sex shop retailer Honey Birdette spouts a great deal about female 'empowerment'. Despite the talk, after 8 years, 42 breaches of the advertising Code of Ethics and numerous, exploitative PR stunts, the company is renowned for harming women - in its own ranks and in the communities it operates in.
Honey Birdette's recent 'rainbow orgy' ad campaign was slammed as a PR stunt
According to testimonies recorded at glassdoor.com - an online employer review website - Honey Birdette has been complicit in a range of harmful, unethical and even illegal activities including training staff to tolerate sexual harassment, forcing staff to purchase products for personal use and asking interviewees about their sex lives.
We know from Honey Birdette’s years-long defiance of community standards and advertising Code of Ethics that it cares nothing for women who want to visit shopping centres and conduct their business free from forced exposure to porn-style imagery.
In the present #MeToo era in which women around the globe are giving voice to the pain of sexual harassment, to the uprising against and victory over rich and powerful perpetrators, and at a time when communities are increasingly holding corporates accountable for the impact of their actions (and inactions), why does Honey Birdette continue to flout human rights principles, sexual harassment laws, community standards and Corporate Social Responsibility? It’s senseless behaviour. And it’s risky business. As the UN Global Compact puts it:
Not respecting human rights poses a number of risks and costs for business including putting the company’s social license to operate at risk, reputational damage, consumer boycotts, exposure to legal liability and adverse government action, adverse action by investors and business partners, reduced productivity and morale of employees.
Of course, Honey Birdette’s owner is not - as is commonly repeated - a woman. Billionaire businessman Brett Blundy - who through his corporation Brett Blundy Retail Capital (BBRC) has stakes in a suite of brands including Lovisa and Adairs - owns 62% of Honey Birdette shares (Australian Securities and Investment Records, June 2019). Blundy’s long-term business partner and Sanity music stores owner Ray Itaoui owns 21%. With over four-fifths of the company’s shares held by Blundy and Itaoui, the 'Honey Birdette's owner is a woman' trope is a falsehood.
Ray Itaoui (L) and Brett Blundy (R) own a combined four-fifths of Honey Birdette sex shop brand (ASI, June 2019)
Should we be surprised that the major vested interests in a company whose corporate conduct frequently manifests as publicly-displayed, floor-to-ceiling, pornified representations of women are men? It echoes the pattern played out in other companies: from Pornhub to Pepsi the corporate world is filled with male owners and executives who are happy to get rich off the bodies of women and girls. Do Honey Birdette’s owners have anything to do with its repeated breaches of advertising Code of Ethics or its ‘crusade to pornify the public space’?
Honey Birdette ads displayed in family-friendly shopping centres in 2019
Blundy’s brands have a history of profiting from women’s exploitation, sexualising girls and pornifying the public space. In 2011 we launched a petition against Blundy-owned Diva jewelry company for marketing and selling porn empire Playboy-branded jewelry to young girls. After a few weeks and thousands of signatures, Diva pulled all Playboy signage and - apparently - products from its stores. But months later, Playboy products could still be purchased via the Diva website and were seen on shelves in some stores. Even stores that weren’t displaying the products were selling them from behind the counter. We’ve also called out BBRC brands Adairs and Bras N Things (now owned by Hanes Australasia) for promoting and profiting from the Playboy label.
Playboy-branded Diva shop windows, 2011: Blundy-owned brands have a history of pornifying the public space
(With his company Sanity recently named among a group of Australian retailers selling anime titles containing child sex abuse material it appears Itaoui has also profited from exploitation on more than one front.)
March 2020: Sanity stores selling Goblin Slayer, recently named for its depictions of child sex abuse
We know from a massive-and-ever-growing body of global literature that sexually objectifying representations of women in marketing and media are harmful, and that women and girls are paying the high price of corporate misogyny that plays out in advertising. In response to our campaigns calling out harmful, sexist advertising and marketing, some offenders offered non-apologies. Others listened, acknowledged the harm they caused, demonstrated corporate social responsibility and committed to changing their behaviour. Yet despite 8 years of calling out Honey Birdette’s harmful advertising practises, Blundy’s sex shop brand has only dished up more pornified ads for viewing at our local ‘family friendly’ shopping centres.
It’s impossible to reconcile BBRC’s stated corporate values - “respect”, “continuous improvement”, “accountability”, “trust” and “integrity” - or its slogans (like “operate with integrity, succeed with humility”) with Honey Birdette’s belligerent and harmful conduct. As we’ve pointed out before corporate social responsibility is not about words. It’s the demonstrated commitment to the well-being of the people who are impacted by one’s business activities. For BBRC, those people are women and girls around the globe who - contrary to Honey Birdette’s claims of their ‘empowerment’ - are disempowered by the sexually objectifying ads Honey Birdette displays in their communities.
Honey Birdette presents itself as a ‘by-women, for-women’ company. But it is another example of men profiting from the exploitation and objectification of women. Granted, the brand has a female face and plenty of women-worn boots (or stilettos) on the ground. This is strategic, though, routinely used by Honey Birdette to spread its Hugh-Hefnerised objectification-equals-empowerment propaganda, shield itself from critique of its exploitative advertising and public relations tactics, and throw the public off the scent of the men who are profiting.
Despite its claimed commitments to respect and integrity, Blundy’s BBRC - Honey Birdette’s principal shareholder - has failed to properly govern the company and instead has allowed it to disrespect community members and standards. Rather than fostering conduct that matches its stated values, BBRC has - through its Honey Birdette brand - repeatedly violated advertising industry Code, shown disdain for members of the public who have objected to its pornified advertisements and insisted on forcing unwilling members of the public to view its graphic - even explicit - porn-themed ads. It has brought the names of other companies it is associated with into disrepute, for example, its Male Champion-led landlords who have hosted its porn-themed ads in their 'family-friendly' shopping centres.
That is not integrity. That is hypocrisy. It keeps the Honey Birdette brand on the corporate reputation scrap heap, and Blundy's name on the list of men profiting from the exploitation of women.
Are you concerned about lining the pockets of corporates that profit from sexploitation? See the full list of BBRC brands here: https://bbrcworld.com/investments/
For years, Honey Birdette sex shops have relied on sexist and objectifying representations of women to flog their products, despite claiming to empower women.
But far from “female empowerment”, Honey Birdette portrayals of women headless, faceless, bound, chained and objectified convey the exact opposite- the sexualised subjugation of women.Read more
"This legit looks like a cutout from a porno flick"Read more
Lesbians have slammed sex shop Honey Birdette for fetishising and objectifying lesbians in its latest ad campaign. The ‘Fluid’ campaign, set to coincide with the forthcoming Sydney Mardi Gras Festival, depicts an orgy of naked men and women with bodies painted in Pride colours, groping each other.
Liz Waterhouse from Listening 2 Lesbians, which documents lesbian experiences of violence and discrimination around the world, said Honey Birdette presented lesbians as available for the sexual gratification of men.
“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,” Ms Waterhouse said.
“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.”
Ms Waterhouse said lesbians needed space to exist free of tokenism and sexual objectification.
“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 campaign takes us further away from that world.”
Susan Hawthorne, author, poet and publisher at Australia’s only feminist and lesbian publisher Spinifex Press, accused Honey Birdette of sexualising lesbians.
“Using lesbians as titillation is not unusual, pornographers have been doing it for decades,” Ms Hawthorne said.
“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.”
Collective Shout has campaigned against Honey Birdette’s pornified representations of women for close to a decade. Honey Birdette has been found in breach of Ad Standards rulings 31 times since January 2018.
“Far from promoting equality, this is an act of rainbow washing for profit,” Ms Roper said. “The company claims diversity while featuring flawless bodies and large-breasted women”.
The ad has received an outpouring of criticism on Honey Birdette’s Instagram and Facebook page, including for “profiting off of Pride” and as a “blatant attempt to cover up an orgy with a rainbow filter”.
Collective Shout has supported a petition launched by Melbourne father of three Kenneth Thor directed at CEOs of shopping centres which host Honey Birdette’s porn-inspired portrayals which has attracted almost 77,000 signatures. Honey Birdette has a counter petition which we have been told by a source close to the company comprises a large percentage of fake names added by staff.
[caitlin at collectiveshout.org]
February 20, 2020
"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."
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)
Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette- ABC Religion and Ethics
Honey Birdette's crusade to pornify the public space- Collective Shout
So-called 'ethical' funds need to demonstrate their point of difference from other super funds.
Ask your super fund where it stands on shopping centre companies that host Honey Birdette's porn-themed ads. Points you may wish to make:
- Unwanted exposure to sexualised imagery is a form of sexual harassment and a violation of human rights
- Exposure to objectifying imagery is linked to tolerance of violence against women and a dimished view of women’s worth and humanity
- Women feel unsafe in places where pornified imagery is displayed
- Boys absorb harmful attitudes from this imagery
Let us know how your fund responds.
I have been a client of Australian Ethical for a number of years now. I made the conscious choice to switch super funds in an effort to invest more responsibly. Their website says "We invest in companies to have a positive impact on the planet, people and animals. We agitate for change and that means taking a stance." This sounded great and seemed aligned to my values.
Until I realised that Australian Ethical invested in property. And this included Lendlease Group and Stockland who facilitate Honey Birdette's harmful hyper-sexualised advertising. The very advertising I have been campaigning against for years. And just so we are clear this is the type of advertising that Honey Birdette are pushing in the public domain to our kids. This is what Lendlease Group and Stockland are facilitating. This is what Australian Ethical are investing in. This is what my superannuation is funding.
Australian Ethical replied:
"We agree the advertising from Honey Birdette is concerning. They have breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics 30 times since 2012 & shown general disregard toward compliance with the Code."
"We are engaging with Lendlease & Stocklands asking them to require Honey Birdette to comply with the Code for all advertising within their shopping centres."
"We invest in Lendlease because they develop & manage a range of properties including schools & hospitals & are considered a sector leader in sustainability. They’re also one of the few companies in the industry to target large scale urban regeneration projects."
"Like all companies Lendlease has negative impacts which we take into account in our ethics assessment. But not every negative will mean a company is automatically ruled out for investment & in some cases we can have more of an impact engaging with them."
"We exclude over 60% of the ASX top 200 companies. The word ethical doesn't mean every company we invest in is perfect (in our experience perfect companies are rare). We look at the positives and negatives to assess if a company is, overall, aligned with our Ethical Charter."
"...the bodysuit of the woman on the left was extremely high cut and a large amount of the woman’s pubic mound was exposed."Read more
What a year! Our team is tired...but elated. This year has seen us achieve some of our biggest wins in our 10-year history: and you helped us do it.
Here are some of our wins and highlights from 2019:
And ignores the global research in the process
The latest case reports from the ad industry's self regulatory body, Ad Standards, have been published and for the third month in a row Honey Birdette's porn themed ads have been given the green light for display in family friendly shopping centres.
The case report states:
"This poster image features the caption "Cage Bust out!" Image features a woman sitting on a chair with her legs apart leaning forward, and another woman leaning on the back of the chair behind her. Both women are wearing black strappy lingerie."
A sample of comments which the complainant/s made regarding this advertisement included the following:
"The ads were on display in high traffic areas of the malls. In one centre, the ads formed the backdrop for a children’s Santa parade. The ads are highly sexualised and indistinguishable from an ad for the sex industry (eg strip venue) and unsuitable for display in general public space, let alone places where children are specifically invited to participate in activities. Moreover, people are working in these spaces- people who have a right to work without being exposed to sexualised imagery. The space does not belong to the advertiser and the advertiser has no right to impose its porn-themed ads onto an all-age, non-consenting audience who are not its customers."
The Ad Standards Community Panel noted the complainants’ concerns that the advertisement:
- are highly sexualised
- resembles images that would be seen in porn publications
- is inappropriate to be seen in full view of children
The Panel considered that the woman on the left was bending over the chair and pushing her bottom out and that this was a sexualised pose. The Panel considered that the other woman was seated with her legs open and that this could also be considered a sexualised pose. The Panel determined that the advertisement did contain sexuality.
The Panel noted that the lingerie worn in the advertisement is available for purchase at Honey Birdette, however considered that products must still be advertised in a manner that is suitable for advertising on the front window of a store that is located in a shopping centre. The Panel determined that the advertisement did contain nudity.
The Panel considered that most members of the community would not find the level of nudity or sexuality in the advertisement confronting or inappropriate for a broad audience which would include children.
However the Ad Standards Community Panel fail to recognise the global research on sexually objectifying portrayals of women in advertising. This meta-analysis from 1995-2015 describes the harms:
The findings provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to this content are directly associated with a range of consequences, including higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, and greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women. Moreover, experimental exposure to this content leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.
It is clear that the current model of self regulation within the Advertising Industry is grossly inadequate. Collective Shout will continue to campaign for change and advocate for a world free of sexploitation.Read more