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/
Racist, sexist: why porn mags had to go
The last issue of the Picture magazine to ever hit shelves
On September 26 2019, I walked into the Park Street Sydney offices of Bauer Media Group, to meet with its CEO.
This moment had been a long time in the making.
In 2010 I wrote an expansive piece on the nature of porn titles in convenience stores - and the failure of our classification system to regulate them - for the ABC.
That same year as part of Collective Shout’s campaign against lad’s mag Zoo, I wrote this piece, ‘Because all women must be brought to their knees’, also for the ABC. Our campaign saw Zoo pulled from Coles five years ago – thanks to the help of a young Coles employee who, with support of her union, told Coles it was creating a “hostile workplace environment” by requiring young women like herself to sell the magazine and to see boys ogling the magazines in store. Coles subsequently pulled the title, which was “catastrophic for sales” and saw publication cease in 2015 (Zoo devoted its final cover to us).
In 2019, we revived the campaign, this time focusing on The Picture and People Magazine. The renewed campaign was prompted by my colleague Melinda Liszewski walking into a 7-Eleven store to get a Coke, when confronted with the headline “X-RATED AUSSIE TEENS 18 & 19-YEAR OLDS STRIP” on the cover of People Magazine. Our campaigns team spent many hours going through the titles. We discovered the fetishizing of schoolgirls, encouraging sexual fantasies for “fresh young flesh”, the extolling of nurses and female tennis players as existing for male gratification and pleasure and racially eroticized Asian women. We asked how content like this could be permitted in a society that claimed to care about the status of women. We made the point that a sexist culture was grooming sexist boys and that these titles were normalizing that idea.
Our rapid-fire social media campaign highlighting the content and the failure of 7-Eleven to exercise corporate social responsibility, along with correspondence with the CEO, resulted in 7-Eleven pulling porn titles Picture and People from 700 stores three weeks later. BP soon followed, removing the titles from 350 servos. Then Bauer Media Group’s CEO Brendon Hill offered a meeting. He had good news. Only in the role a few months, he agreed with our views that these titles were inconsistent with Bauer’s core values and pro women position statements. It was a positive exchange. We commend Brendon for his actions.Read more
Women working in food services are prone to sexual harassment. The 2018 National Survey on Workplace Sexual Harassment report found that people employed in accommodation and food services - 60 per cent of whom were women - were "overrepresented as victims of workplace sexual harassment”. A 2019 survey of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association members - a group made up primarily of employees from the retail, fast-food and warehouse sectors - showed that nearly half of women had experienced workplace sexual harassment.
Last week KFC gushed about its partnership with icare for a staff-education program aimed at equipping staff with skills to de-escalate customer abuse and reducing its prevalence. Background data confirms that for workers in the fast-food sector, customer abuse is the norm, and is experienced more widely by female workers than male workers.
We know that abuse is borne out of disrespect, and so it’s reasonable to view customer abuse - abuse that tends to affect women more prevalently than men - as another symptom of societal-level disrespect for women. When other research confirms that gender stereotypes and sexually objectifying representations of women in media and advertising diminish our view of and value for women, we’re hard-pressed to understand why - at the same time it invests in employee empowerment - KFC would use casual sexism to flog chicken.
icare’s pilot program involving KFC reportedly resulted in a 48% reduction in cases of customer abuse. But in the wake of KFC’s cataclysmic advertising fail, do young, female employees in KFC outlets have reason to feel empowered at work? KFC has sent the message to men and boys everywhere that ogling a woman’s breasts - an act of sexual harassment - is just a natural, normal thing to do. The message to women and girls? To borrow a pun from another KFC ad campaign, ‘Bucket. Why not?’ - just go with it. This is the antithesis of the message of respect-based, anti-harassment training programs which instruct victims and onlookers to speak out against harassment.
It is always good to provide workers with skills to manage the spectrum of customer misconduct, but young women should not be expected to absorb the consequences of a nationwide ad campaign where sexual objectification and sexual harassment of young women is the punchline.
How can young women feel respected by their employer when KFC is contributing to the very problems they are trying to solve with a "respect and resilience" program? Will they be safe at work when men like this walk through the door?
If KFC has - as it claims - genuine interest in the well-being of young people and empowering its staff, it will retract the ad and commit to marketing its products without endorsing sexual harassment and perpetuating antiquated sexist narratives that contribute to a culture of disrespect for women.
Not wicked, just misogyny on four wheelsRead more
Content warning: This piece contains references to rape and violence against women that may be distressing.
This week, Noisey, Vice’s music channel, published a piece in defence of rap artist Tyler the Creator. The article, entitled ‘#FreeTylerTheCreator And Reject Theresa May’s Dumb Logic’ painted Tyler as a victim of racism and ignorance, and presented misinformation about campaigns against him.
The piece opens by describing a “moving” performance by TTC, summed up with the following statement:
"This – a peaceful lover of nature – is an artist who remains banned from entering the UK under any circumstances.”
It's hard to imagine such a “peaceful lover of nature” could be behind lyrics like “rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome”, or a wealth of others glorifying rape and extreme violence against women, murder, mutilating women’s genitals, stuffing them into car boots, trapping them in his basement, raping their corpses and burying their bodies.
The author suggests there is no basis for TTC to be refused access into any country, and that bans were motivated by racism:
"It was a very blatant case of making an example out of someone for no reason other than the fact that he’s black and angry and all the other countries under the Queen’s rule were doing it.”
The author's lack of research doesn’t end there, with the article incorrectly stating that after being banned from entering New Zealand in 2014, TTC became the focus of Collective Shout.
Collective Shout first campaigned against Tyler the Creator in June of 2013, not because he is “black and angry”, but due to his songs advocating rape and violence against women, often defended by his fans as ‘art’. In the course of our campaign, young activist Talitha Stone wrote a tweet accusing Tyler the Creator of promoting misogyny. TTC responded by sharing her tweet with his millions of followers, who predictably jumped at the opportunity to prove their loyalty by threatening to rape and murder Talitha, with police involvement required after one fan tweeted her home address.
Just days later, Tyler launched into an abusive tirade against Talitha who was in the crowd at his Sydney concert, calling her a bitch, whore and c*** as concertgoers cheered. He then proceeded to dedicate the song ‘Bitch Suck Dick’ to her, which contains the lyrics “You dead bitch, I'm hot as f*ck…Punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin' shit”.
Is this still ‘art’?
‘Beat the p***y up’ – the way we talk about sex with women
By Jessica Eaton
This blog contains a discussion of violent language to discuss sex, sexual violence and porn. It also contains the titles to real porn films that a lot of people may find disturbing. Please take care of yourself whilst reading this and seek support after reading if you need to.
As a massive old skool (and sometimes new skool) RnB, Rap and Hip Hop fan, I often find myself experiencing some pretty serious cognitive dissonance to try to enjoy my music without yelling at the radio or crying into my crisps.
As a younger feminist, I used to tell myself that it was okay that women were called bitches and hoes because that’s the way that artist chose to express themselves (I know, I know, so progressive).
As I got older, I started to resent the use of the word ‘bitch’ in my once-favourite songs. I stopped listening to some artists because I couldn’t stand the way they spoke about women and sex. The next challenge was dealing with the rise of female artists using ‘bitch’ and ‘nasty hoe’ to describe themselves. I thought the rise of female MCs, rappers and writers would eliminate this constant woman-hating but it didn’t. Nicki, Cardi B, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott – they made me wanna two-step and cry at the same time.
(Edit: I would just like to add that misogynistic and rape-glorifying lyrics are found in Death Metal too so this issue clearly isn’t unique to my music preferences, but I have never listened to it so didn’t know until someone told me today! Here’s a link.)
It is often the case in music that women sing about loving men and men sing about f*cking women. And it’s this that I want to talk about.
I noticed recently that the range of ways men sing, rap and talk about having sex with women has become inherently violent. They aren’t talking about ‘getting jiggy’ or ‘having fun’ or ‘doing the deed’ – I mean, they are not even calling it sex anymore. Not only that, but they are not even naming or identifying the woman anymore.
I decided to sit and think about all the violent ways men describe having sex with women these days, and came up with this list in about 3 minutes. I am sure there are many more and people will contact me with others.
List of violent terms to describe having sex with women:
Beat that p***y up
Beat it up
There are two main points here. The first is that sex is being described in very violent terms and the second is that the word ‘that’ is used in place of ‘her’ to objectify the woman they are talking about. These men aren’t saying ‘I would love to have sex with her’ or ‘I would shag her’ or even ‘I would f**k her’ – they are saying ‘I would f**k that’. ‘That’ is not a pronoun. ‘That’ is not a name. ‘That’ is used for objects. I’ll come back to this point.
The first point is the violence in the language. Hit. Destroy. Ruin. Bang. Beat up. Smash. Smack. Hurt. These are words that describe violence and injury. They don’t describe sex. They don’t describe the type of sex any woman wants to have.
When I started to search the terms I had heard and read, I easily found memes, articles, discussions and blogs using this language about women in a completely normalised way. Men saying to their friends ‘The girl next door, I would ruin that!’ or ‘She’s gonna get it hard. Beat that p***y up!’ The image of all of the guys saying they would rape the sleeping girl on the sofa. I found hundreds of song lyrics like the ones I have listened to.
Gucci Mane released a song called ‘Beat it up’ about having sex with women. So did Slim Thug. So did Chris Brown. And no, I’m not talking about one song they all featured on, I’m talking about three separately produced songs about ‘beating that p***y up’.
Here are the lyrics from Slim Thug:
Guess what? I’m f**kin tonight
Whether you know it or not, Ima beat that pussy right
Yeah I’m f**kin tonight, Ima beat it up
In song lyrics, R Kelly says he ‘beats the p***y up like Django’and Lil Wayne says he ‘beat that p***y up like Emmett Till’.
Chris Brown says he f**ks women back to sleep in ‘Back to sleep’. I don’t really know why he would want to make a woman he has sex with fall asleep but the song lyrics are creepy as shit:
F**k you to sleep, wake you up again, I go so deep, beat it up again
Just let me rock, f**k you back to sleep, girl
Don’t say no, girl, don’t you talk
Just hold on tight to me, girl
F**k you back to sleep, girl.
The issue here is that these influential men in our popular culture and music industry are openly using sexually violent references to having sex with women and then every day adults (and children) are singing along to Chris Brown riffin’ about the women he wakes up to make them have sex with him again when they are too tired. We are so oblivious to what we are listening to, this language quickly becomes the norm.
One article I found listed every artist they could find who referred to sex as ‘beating the p***y up’ and they found over 15 current male artists using that term in hit songs. Jay-Z to Lil Wayne – they were all describing sex as harming women.
After searching for evidence on each one of the terms I listed above, I found a website discussing what ‘destroy that’ and ‘ruin that’ meant and was surprised to find how open men were when talking about what they meant. I had thought that maybe it was being used semi-consciously by men who were using it in banter, but they were using it literally. One page defined it as ‘having sex with her so rough that you cause injuries, the more physical injuries the rougher it probably was’. One man said he used it with his friends to mean destroying or ruining a ‘nice girl’ by having very aggressive sex with her or by taking her virginity.
It reminded me of a film I watched (and use in my teaching) about mail order brides and the way white, wealthy guys were buying and sexually exploiting women as servile brides from deprived areas. There was this one guy who used military metaphors to discuss meeting and having sex with potential brides. He made my skin crawl.
He is sat in a dark club when he says to the camera:
“Uh, the search and destroy mission for today is to circulate, work the room, identify a target and go for it. If plan A doesn’t work, I retreat, rally the troops and then go out and then try plan B uhh to capture the target.”
He doesn’t even say woman. He doesn’t even talk about humans. He talks about destroying and identifying targets.
This links to the second point I wanted to make – that this language dehumanises and dementalises women – it reduces them to their ‘p***y’ or their ‘ass’ that the men are going to ‘hurt’ or ‘hit’ or ‘crush’ or ‘beat that up’. They no longer converse about sex in human terms – they talk in metaphors and disconnected, dehumanised language. They refer to women as ‘that’ or they only talk about her body parts. She is there to be used, abused and hurt for their pleasure.
Where is this sexually violent language coming from?
Well, sorry to be the not-the-fun-kind-of-feminist, but its porn and societal misogyny. There is no doubt about where this is coming from. Work by people like Julia Long and Gail Dines has long told us that porn has become more and more violent, with Long (2012) arguing that over 90% of porn now features violence against women including hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, hurting, whipping and deliberately painful and extremely degrading sex acts.
You only have to look at the titles of porn films on Pornhub or X Videos to see the way they describe women in violent and degrading terms to see where this is coming from.
Here are some examples that are on porn sites today (18th May 2018):
‘Passed out slut letting me f**k her brains out’ (this film is of a clearly unconscious young girl being raped on Pornhub)
‘Unwanted painful anal’ (another allowed to stay on Pornhub despite clearly describing a rape)
‘Rip her up’ (the name of a series of videos in which women are raped)
‘Blonde babe gets brutally slapped and f**ked’
‘Beauty humiliated and ruined – BRUTAL’
‘Teen gets anally destroyed – hear her real screams and crying’
‘Heavily pregnant teen used by men’ (Pornhub allows this!)
“Dean wants to be loved, honoured…and obeyed.”
Channel Nine’s reality TV show Married At First Sight has been slammed for promoting sexism in a new video of contestant Dean. In the video, Dean describes what he is looking for in a wife- which appears to be, a doormat.
Advertisers, challenged with cutting through a cluttered marketing environment, sometimes aim to shock. Unfortunately while their aim may be to get their client noticed, our research shows they continue to glorify the violent exploitation of women.
This is despite increasing community support, matched by public policy efforts to counter violence against women.Read more