Last year, father of three Kenneth Thor started a petition calling on Westfield to stop Honey Birdette’s consistent sexist and porn-inspired imagery in shopping centres across the country.
More than 61,000 people share Kenneth’s concerns about the retailer’s ongoing depictions of women as sexual playthings for men, yet to date, Westfield has failed to demonstrate corporate social responsibility or even respond to hundreds of complaints.
Honey Birdette is a serial sexploitation offender, attracting numerous complaints to Ad Standards for its sexually objectifying treatment of women. The sex shop even made the Ad Standards top ten list of most complained about ads in the country in both 2015and 2016. When complaints against Honey Birdette have been upheld, they refuse to comply, even stating, “Nobody tells Honey B’s when to take down her signage!”
In a response to Kenneth’s petition, CEO Eloise Monaghan once again dismissed legitimate concerns over Honey Birdette’s sexist treatment of women, claiming,
“You see more flesh on Bondi Beach at 10 a.m.”
Monaghan has missed the point.
What is sexual objectification?
The presence of female flesh alone does not constitute sexual objectification. The inclusion of attractive women does not constitute sexual objectification.
Sexual objectification occurs when a person, often a woman, is treated as a body, or series of body parts for other’s use and consumption, when her physical attributes and sexual capabilities are regarded as representative of her whole self or seen as determining her worth.
As Dr Linda Papadopolous stated in Sexualisation of Young People Review:
“Although sexual objectification is but one form of gender oppression, it is one that factors into- and perhaps enables- a host of other oppressions women face, ranging from employment discrimination and sexual violence to the trivialisation of women’s work and accomplishments.”
Honey Birdette routinely promotes the sexual objectification of women in their floor to ceiling porn-themed advertising, featuring hypersexualised depictions of women’s bodies or even just parts of their bodies. Women in Honey Birdette advertising exist for men’s pleasure, defined only by their sexual appeal and availability. The message is that women exist for men’s enjoyment and entertainment.
Objection to the sexual objectification of women is not an objection to women, nor is it an objection to women’s bodies. It is about opposition to sexism, to corporates who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and have the audacity to claim they are empowering women in the process.
What about ads showing men in underwear?
Monaghan went on to suggest Honey Birdette is the victim of a double standard because there is no outcry over ads showing men in underwear.
Again, the issue is not and has never been about underwear. The depiction of men or women in underwear is not inherently degrading or sexualised, nor does it require women to be objectified and exploited. Just look at the lingerie ad below by Badger and Winters who “made a commitment to never objectify women in our work”.
While we have spoken out against the objectification of men, the objectification of men is not nearly as prevalent as the everyday sexualisation and objectification of women in media and popular culture. Women are far more likely to be objectified and to be negatively impacted by objectification. Men featured in advertising are not typically demeaned, dismembered, treated like decorative objects, or posed as vulnerable and submissive in the way women frequently are. Read more here.
In the #MeToo era, with a growing community awareness about alarming rates of men’s violence against women and the relationship between the objectification of women and men’s violence against them, companies like Honey Birdette continue to put their profits before the respect, dignity and wellbeing of women. #TimesUp Honey Birdette.
Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette- ABC Religion and Ethics
Collective Shout’s primary mission is campaigning against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls. While we have spoken out against the objectification of men on occasion, the bulk of our time and efforts are focused on women and girls. Why?
While both men and women can be sexualised, it is primarily women who are being objectified, and women who are far more likely to be negatively impacted by objectification.
Women are routinely sexualised and objectified in mainstream popular culture. Hypersexualised representations of women in media and advertising are everywhere. Women are positioned as passive, decorative objects, reduced to a collection of sexualised body parts, defined by their physical attractiveness and sexual availability, and even depicted as (still glamorous) victims of violence. Women’s sexualised bodies are used to sell everything from beer to burgers to organ donation.
Research out of the University of Southern Carolina found that the hypersexualisation of men in films has increased substantially in under a decade.
The Economist reported:
Of the 100 top-grossing films at the US box-office in 2007, 4.6% of male characters were seen dressed in “sexualised attire” and 6.6% were shown “with some nudity”. In 2014 those figures stood at 8.0% and 9.1%. 2013 marked the highest point of this trend with 9.7% of male characters shot in sexually alluring clothing, and 11.7% taking some—or all—of their kit off on film.
However, women in film fared much worse:
In 2014, 27.9% of female characters wore ‘sexy’ clothing and 26.4% exposed their chests, legs, or other body parts on camera: they are roughly three times more likely to be objectified on screen than men. Considering, too, that women make up less than a third of all speaking characters and less than a quarter of leading roles, the percentages are all the more alarming. Women are less visible in films, and those that are present are exponentially more likely to be featured in sexualised terms.
While both men and women can be objectified, the outcome is not necessarily the same.
We live in a culture in which the value of women and girls is determined in large part by their physical beauty and sexual appeal, to the exclusion of their intellect, abilities and contributions to the world. This treatment does not extend to men.
When men are sexualised in media and advertising, they are not typically demeaned, portrayed as decorative objects or posed as vulnerable and submissive in the ways that women are. Men are also rarely dismembered and presented as a collection of sexualised or individual body parts. Instead, men are depicted as hyper-masculine and strong. The sexualising and objectifying treatment of men may serve to enhance their power and status rather than to reduce it.
Activist and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne has spent decades studying the image of women in advertising. In her documentary Killing Us Softly 4, she responds to the suggestion that men are now being objectified in the way women traditionally have been:
Reporters called me up from all around the country and said, “Look! They’re doing the same thing to men they’ve always done to women.” Well, not quite.
They’d be doing the same thing to men they’ve always done to women if there were copy with this ad that went like this:
‘Your penis might be too small, too droopy, too limp, too lop-sided, too narrow, too fat, too pale, too pointy, too blunt, or just two inches. But at least you can have a great pair of jeans!’
It would never happen and nor should it, and believe me, this is not the kind of equality I’m fighting for. I don’t want them to do this to men any more than to women, but I think we can learn something from these two ads, one of which did happen and one of which never would.”
We do not support ‘equal opportunity’ objectification. No person should be reduced to the status of object, or treated as a thing for another person’s use.
A Melbourne based shoe designer has attracted complaints over a sexually objectifying image on their Facebook page depicting a series of semi-naked, headless women wearing their shoes.
Facebook users weighed in on Preston Zly Design’s photo, with a series of witty and insightful comments:
“But why does the model have to take her pants off to sell shoes?”
“Hi, can you please clarify, will I be able to wear these shoes if I have a head attached to my body? Also I put clothes on prior to my shoes, will these shoes still work with my dressing style?”
“Can we expect similar ads for men’s footwear with headless men missing their clothing also, or is it just sexual exploitation of women that sells shoes?”
“I don’t need nudes to sell me shoes.”
“Women are not inanimate objects and selling to us by exploiting us isn’t edgy.”
“Oh look, headless bodies of young, thin, conventionally attractive white women being used to sell a product. How artistic! So revolutionary and challenging! It’s almost like this outdated and sexist practice hasn’t gone on for decades!”
Designer Johanna Preston responded,
“We are not clothing designers- it’s all about the shoes here” – as if featuring clothed female models is a skill limited to clothing designers.
“The images aren’t exploitative- but if you choose to think they are that’s your prerogative.
“I understand that the use of the female body offends you but we are proud of our work and stand behind our beautiful shoot.”
But the use of women’s bodies as props, the depiction of women without faces, the treatment of women as interchangeable and the use of women’s near naked bodies to sell a product is objectification- whether it is acknowledged or not, whether it offends or not.
There is a wealth of research on the harms of objectifying women- decades of it- finding that this sexist treatment leads both men and women to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity. In short, treating women like things is bad for women.
It’s hard to understand how in 2018, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and with a growing awareness of the scourge of men’s violence against women, companies can continue to exploit women’s bodies to sell a product.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a range of businesses and industries have been forced to re-examine their business practices. Last month, Formula One announced their decision to discontinue the practice of using ‘Grid Girls’, recognising the use of women as accessories was not in line with modern societal norms.
More recently, large automakers Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co and Ssangyong have all shied away from the tradition of using attractive women to sell cars. Ssangyong’s “booth babes” will be replaced by male and female models in sportswear, and Nissan has stopped hiring fashion models.
Photo by Saso Domijan
“Times have changed,” said Sara Jenkins, Nissan spokesperson. “It makes more sense to use product specialists because we’re selling cars.”
Bloomberg reported on the changes:
Lexus, the luxury brand of the world’s second-biggest carmaker, Toyota, confirmed it’s dropping models altogether at the Swiss event, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is said to have canceled contracts with several female models over concern about being criticized on #MeToo. The maker of the Maserati, Jeep and Alfa Romeo nameplates will instead feature men as well as women in less flesh-exposing garb than in previous years, two people with knowledge of the plans said.
This is in sharp contrast with 2017, when Alfa Romeo’s display had women in little black dresses hovering around its Stelvio crossover. Nearby, a brunette with a beehive hairdo and a bottom-grazing sixties-style dress kicked up her red heels next to a Fiat 500. At Lexus, a woman in an off-the-shoulder burgundy gown was stationed beside one of its sedans.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, exposing the epidemic of men’s sexual exploitation of women, the casual sexism and objectification of women must be recognised as a significant contributing factor. There can be no gender equality while women continue to be treated as eye candy or props, valued primarily for their physical attractiveness. It’s great to see positive steps forward.
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.
Why are we supporting the Honey Birdette campaign?Read more
Read Part one here
These hyper-sexualised advertising posters more appropriate in the storefront of an R rated sex shop are in plain view of children within a family shopping centre. They are designed to be sexually stimulating, but my kids and I did not go to the shops to get sexually stimulated!
After my visit to Westfield that left my 4-year-old and 6-year-old children in shock at Honey Birdette’s larger than life sexualised posters, I politely wrote to Westfield Fountain Gate on their Facebook. They eventually asked for my phone number so that their Retail Manager could have a chat with me.
The Westfield Fountain Gate retail manager made great pains to tell me that there were many other more important things to be passionate about like junk food advertising to kids, rather than “showing a bit of boob”.
In the meantime, I found out that the place to make official complaints about advertising is to the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB). By that time (a week later), I found it challenging to describe the offending poster, so I drove all the way back to Westfield Fountain Gate and took photos of the posters that my kids saw. However, you cannot upload pictures to the ASB, so had to find some descriptive words to describe what my kids saw.
Supporter speaks out: as soon as a company uses sexualised images to promote their products, they have plummeted to the lowest 'elevation' possible.
Last week, B&T reported on the latest campaign by Honey Birdette titled “Office Party” that appeared to play on the Christmas tradition of a drunken office work bash. This time, however, with models gadding about in only their expensive lingerie.
The campaign came with a racy stills campaign and social media TVC. You can see it if you go to the link in the full article at bandt.com.au
However, since the launch of the campaign the company has been defending itself against claims it is offensive and wrong to portray women in their undergarments at an office party.