General Pants has a long history of using sexist and sexually objectifying advertising to sell its merchandise. Their latest ad campaign, in store windows across the country, shows that nothing much has changed.
This is not the first time General Pants has sexually objectified women, or used topless women to promote their products. The youth retailer first came to our attention after featuring pole dancers in their shop window display in Melbourne's Bourke Street store.
In 2011, General Pants management instructed underage staff to wear “I love sex” badges that made them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.
General Pants then displayed large images of topless women being stripped from behind by an unseen man. Some of these images were framed as large keyholes to suggest the women were being spied on.
A short time later, a supporter alerted us to the store’s change room wallpaper, featuring an array of images advertising pornography and prostitution.
In 2014, General Pants window displays featured sexualised images of young, bikini clad women in the bath alongside the slogan ‘Wet Dreams’.
In 2016, their advertising featured topless and semi-naked women alongside fully clothed men.
The research is clear- exposure to these sort of everyday sexualised images of women has a range of negative impacts, including greater body dissatisfaction and self-objectification in women, greater support of sexist beliefs and a greater tolerance of violence against women, as well as leading both men and women to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity.
The ongoing sexualising and objectifying treatment of women by companies like General Pants contributes to real-world harms for women and girls- why is this advertising still permitted?
Ad industry self-regulation in Australia is a failure. In the lead up to the election, we are calling on supporters to contact their local candidates and ask them to support a new regulatory regime to ensure public spaces are free from sexualised and sexually objectifying images that harm women and children.
This Wicked Campervan was spotted in Brisbane last week with Victorian licence plates:
(pic: Boycott Wicked Campers Facebook)
Under existing laws, there is nothing to prevent this. Even when Ad Standards upholds complaints- as it has against Wicked Campers more than eighty times - they have no authority to enforce rulings, and there are no penalties for repeat offenders.
Collective Shout is calling for uniform laws across the country to deregister Wicked Campers if it does not abide Ad Standards rulings. Tasmania, ACT and Queensland have already passed these laws, but we still need MPs to enact similar legislation in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, where a private members bill by MP Katrine Hilydard has received overwhelming support.
Just last month, the federal Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer called for a national response against Wicked Campers’ “sexist, misogynist and offensive slogans”, writing to state and territory ministers seeking their urgent support.
Also in March, festival promoter Adrian Buckley announced that Wicked Campers would be banned from Wollombi music festival. We welcomed this news, and are calling on other music festivals to do the same.
Well UltraTune are at it again. Another year, another sexist ad campaign airing during the Australian Open, and viewers aren't happy. Continuing with their theme of 'Unexpected Situations' the 7th ad in the series is just as cringeworthy as the previous ones. The latest instalment features serial abuser Charlie Sheen and Warwick Capper *Insert eyeroll*. In 2018 UltraTune's ad featured rapist and woman basher Mike Tyson. Can you see a theme?Read more
Ad Standards has upheld complaints over a prominent Kittens Car Wash billboard in Melbourne, where sleazy men pay women in g-string bikinis to feign interest in them wash their cars.
A complaint made to Ad Standards read as follows:
It’s sexist and degrading to women. It encourages the notion that women’s bodies are for the sexual gratification of men. It’s in a highly visible area where families with children (including myself) pass by every day. It’s also primarily there to promote the associated strip club and as such is advertising sexual services in a prominent public position. It is demeaning and overtly sexual for a company who only wash cars. The workers wear bikinis to wash your car but the billboard is also to promote the strip club also called Kittens. It is on a prominent corner of a high traffic area.
Ad Standards considered the complaint, noting that the woman’s body was being used as an object to advertise the service. The panel found that the advertisement was in breach of Section 2.2 of the code which states: “Advertising or marketing communications should not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group of people.”
The panel also considered the woman’s pose was “seductive and highly sexualised”, finding it was in breach of Section 2.4 of the code, which requires advertisers to treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
Kittens Car Wash has a long history of using sexist and sexually objectifying imagery to advertise their sexist business. The ‘Kittens School of Striptease’ bus advertisement sat on the corner of a major intersection in Melbourne in full view of traffic parked next to a bikini carwash. After Ad Standards upheld complaints against it in 2010, Kittens continued to use the same image on a number of different vehicles. Read more.
Ad Standards Board bans Kittens Carwash Striptease bus ad
Kittens Car Wash comes under fire from feminists for paying its female workers to clean vehicles wearing nothing more than bikinis and g-strings- Daily Mail
They even film themselves doing it [video]Read more
“Domestic violence and femicide is a real issue, pairing that issue with alcohol is beyond disgusting.”Read more
Honey Birdette is a serial sexploitation offender. The sex shop, located in shopping centres around the country, has attracted hundreds of complaints for its sexist advertising. Ad Standards has investigated complaints over almost thirty separate advertisements, upholding half, but Honey Birdette continues to sexually objectify women.
Last year, father and Collective Shout supporter Kenneth Thor launched a petition calling on Westfield shopping centres to stop Honey Birdette’s porn-themed advertising, but to date Westfield has failed to take any action. Enough is enough- Westfield must act on Honey Birdette sexual exploitation of women.
In this blog, we’ve compiled responses to some of the more common defences of Honey Birdette sexism.
1. "You see more flesh at the beach"
In response to Kenneth Thor's petition to Westfield, Honey Birdette founder Eloise Monaghan claimed, “You see more flesh at Bondi at 10 am.” Monaghan has clearly missed the point.
The presence of female flesh alone does not constitute sexual objectification. The inclusion of attractive women in an ad campaign 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 others’ use and consumption, when her physical attributes and sexual capabilities are regarded as representative of her whole self or seen as determining her worth.
Commenting on Honey Birdette advertising, Australian researcher Dr. Meagan Tyler said:
"These are not just images of women's breasts, they are sexually objectified and commodified images of women's breasts in public space. These representations of women, that reduce us to consumable body parts, reduce our recognition of women's full humanity and make it more difficult for women to participate in public life."
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 hyper-sexualised depictions of women’s bodies or even just parts of their bodies. The women in Honey Birdette advertising are portrayed as though they are 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 an 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.
2. "It's just women expressing their sexuality"
If Honey Birdette advertising is an expression of female sexuality, “for women, by women”, then why is it indistinguishable from the content in men’s softcore porn magazines?
Honey Birdette promotes a very narrow view of female sexuality, one in which youthful, slender, and typically white-skinned women are depicted as passive objects of male desire. Female sexuality as represented by Honey Birdette entails women being sexually appealing to men, exposing their bodies and mimicking porn-inspired poses and acts. How does this differ from the sexually objectifying depictions of women for a male audience? Essentially, it doesn’t.
In her TED talk about growing up in a ‘porn culture’, Professor Gail Dines encouraged the audience to critically analyse porn-inspired depictions of women in media and advertising. Pointing to a hyper-sexualised image of a female model, she said:
“Look at her clothes, look at her face, look at her posture, and look at her gaze...who is she speaking to? Because the notion is that every image has a reader in mind. Before you answer, do you think she’s speaking to her mother, saying, ‘Let’s go for a cup of coffee after the photo shoot?’ So who is she talking to? Who is she speaking to? Men. And what is she saying? ‘F*ck me’.”
Who is the ‘reader’ or the intended audience in Honey Birdette ads? And what is being communicated to them?
Note the differing treatment of men and women in Honey Birdette ad campaigns. Lingerie clad women are posed alongside fully clothed men. What does this unequal treatment represent? Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth said, “Cross-culturally, unequal nakedness almost always expresses power relations.”
It is in Honey Birdette’s interest to reframe their commodification of female bodies and sexuality as ‘female sexuality’ or ‘empowerment’. “For women, by women” may be a great marketing hook, but the promotion of sexist stereotypes and sexually objectifying imagery of women does not become an ‘expression of female sexuality’ simply because a company with vested financial interests says so.
3. "You're just easily offended"
This is not an issue of offence or personal taste. Our opposition to Honey Birdette’s constant sexually exploitative depictions of women is not on the basis of offence, but documented evidence of harm.
Representations of women that reduce women to mere sexual objects, as sexually available and existing for men’s use are problematic not because some people might be offended but because they cause harm, primarily to women and children.
Researcher Rebecca Whisnant distinguishes between offence and harm. Offence is “something that happens in one’s head”, whereas harm is “an objective condition, not a way of feeling; to be harmed is to have one’s interests set back, to be made worse off, to have one’s circumstances made worse than they were...Whether a person is harmed does not depend on how she feels.”
The harms of sexually objectifying portrayals of women are well established. A review of twenty years of research, from 109 publications containing 135 studies found:
“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.”
Honey Birdette’s attempts to paint those who object to their routine sexual exploitation of women as easily offended, prudish or even religious fundamentalists is a deliberate tactic to silence those who might threaten their profits, and to avoid engaging in meaningful discussions about the harms to women and children from the very sexual objectification they promote.
4. "It has no impact on kids"
Some people believe that children are unaffected by floor to ceiling soft-porn advertising in public spaces, such as Honey Birdette shopfront advertising. This view is not supported by the international research into the sexualisation of children and its corresponding harms.
Sexualisation of children refers to the imposition of adult models of sexual behaviour and sexuality on to children and adolescents at developmentally inappropriate stages and in opposition to the healthy development of sexuality. It encompasses sexual objectification and representation of children in adult sexual ways and in ways that imply the child’s value is dependent on conforming to a particular appearance, sexual display or behaviours. Children may also experience secondary sexualisation through exposure to sexualised advertising material and products aimed at adult consumers- like Honey Birdette shopping centre advertising.
Pic credit MTR/Caters Media
The harms of sexualisation are extensive. In its 2007 Task Force into the sexualisation of girls the American Psychological Association concluded there was “ample evidence to show that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains including: cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and beliefs”.
Harms from exposure to sexualised content
There is a “growing body of evidence” of the harms to children from exposure to adult sexual content. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists noted that premature exposure to adult sexual images and values has a negative impact on the psychological development of children, in terms of self-esteem, body image and understanding of sexuality and relationships.
The objectification of women in media and advertising puts pressure on girls and women to conform to stereotypical sexualised beauty ideals. According to RANZCP, exposure to sexualising messages contributes to girls defining their self-worth in terms of sexual attractiveness, and the “excessive focus on appearance and narrow definition of attractiveness” contributes to the development of abnormal eating patterns and lack of positive body image.
Links between sexist advertising and violence against women
The NSW Government acknowledged the links between media and advertising reinforcing sexist and stereotypical gender roles and men’s violence against women in their 2016 report on sexualisation:
“The exposure to media representation of genders...can provide templates for what it means to be a boy/man (equated with sexual conquest and entitlement to access women’s bodies) and girl/woman (sexually available).”
“The NSW Government further maintains, in line with the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022, that such stereotyping contributes to attitudes that support or justify violence against women and girls.”
Honey Birdette targets kids
So far, complaints have been made against 28 Honey Birdette advertisements, with rulings against the retailer on 13 occasions. Children around the country are exposed to Honey Birdette advertising every day. Honey Birdette is well aware of parents' concerns for their children, as outlined in frequent complaints, but it is clear the wellbeing of children is not a priority for them.
In addition to their standard sexually objectifying advertising material, Honey Birdette have gone out of their way to attract the attention of children in their advertising in public spaces. Several Christmas ad campaigns have included imagery of beloved children’s figure Santa alongside lingerie clad women, in various BDSM themed scenarios. One advertisement even addressed children directly, with the slogan ‘Sorry Kids! We gave Santa the night off.’ Honey Birdette founder Eloise Monaghan dismissed complaints about the “fun” Santa campaign, commenting, “You can’t please everyone.”
The retailer continued to put profits before the rights of children, refusing to take down the ad even after Ad Standards had found it was in breach. “Nobody tells Honey B’s when to take down her signage”, the brand posted on their Facebook page.
The harms of sexualisation of children are well established and significant. We know that sexualisation presents a threat to the health and wellbeing of children, yet Honey Birdette arrogantly and repeatedly breaches the AANA code of ethics, showing a complete disregard for the most vulnerable members of our society.Read more
Mike Tyson UltraTune ad was #3 most complained about ad this year, but Ad Standards dismissed complaints anyway
Ad Standards has released a blog post naming the top ten most complained about ads so far in 2018. The list includes serial sexploitation offender UltraTune (#3) and the trailer for BDSM themed film ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ (#6).
From the post:
Community concerns about sexually suggestive content in advertising headlines the top 10 list of most complained about advertisements to 30 June. Concerns about violence are also highlighted.
So far this year Ad Standards has processed over 4,000 complaints, an increase of over 1,000 compared to the same period in 2017.
UltraTune have a reputation for sexually objectifying women in their advertising, depicting them as stupid and incompetent drivers- and they did so here. According to them, the vilification and humiliation of women is hilarious. Predictably, Ad Standards found that the women’s outfits were “not overly revealing” and they are shown to be “confident and in control”, and dismissed complaints.
The commercial, featuring convicted rapist Mike Tyson, attracted a whopping 134 complaints. Despite the overwhelming number of complaints over yet another UltraTune commercial that depicted women as brainless yet sexy, Ad Standards dismissed complaints.
It is clear that Ad Standards view of “community standards” is not in line with actual community standards.
Organisers of the Miss America pageant have announced they will scrap both the swimsuit and evening gown portion of the competition.
The changes to the pageant came after the Miss America Organisation was faced with their own sexual harassment problem, with chief executive Sam Haskell resigning in December over lewd emails.
New chairwoman Gretchen Carlson attempted to distance the pageant from its sexist origins, telling Good Morning America, “We are no longer going to judge you on your outward appearance.”
While this may represent a step in the right direction, the more likely explanation is that Miss America’s tradition of parading young women around in bikinis to be scrutinised and evaluated by male judges is no longer good for business in the current social climate.
The New York Times summarised the move as follows: “It appears that #MeToo has done what a protest could not: eradicate one of the most derided aspects of the competition, the swimsuit.”
In a commentary piece for CBC News, Meghan Murphy rejected the notion that these changes amounted to a rejection of the objectification of women:
Miss America has declined in popularity since the 1980s, though objectifying women has not. The porn industry, for example, generates more revenue than CBS, NBC and ABC combined, and more than all major sports franchises. Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter together.
The kind of objectification available to men during the heydey of Miss America was nowhere near comparable to that which exists today. We have access to women's bodies at our fingertips, performing in any way we can possibly imagine, at any given moment. With all of that available, who needs a swimsuit competition?
Other beauty pageants have not taken similar steps. Miss Universe Australia, as well as Miss Universe internationally, have not removed the swimwear component from their beauty pageants, with current Miss Universe Australia Olivia Rogers arguing the practice of assessing women based on how they look in a bikini was “a tradition worth maintaining” and “less objectifying than it used to be”.
The entire premise of beauty pageants is evaluating women on the basis of their physical appearance, and ranking them based on how desirable they are to men. While the strategic removal of the swimsuit round – a business decision- might seem like progress, real female empowerment is not found in a Miss America pageant. Progress comes not by making minor changes to inherently sexist traditions and institutions, but by shutting them down.
Ad Standards uphold complaints against sexist NGU Real Estate video, but fail to grasp harms of sexual objectification
Earlier this year, Ad Standards announced long awaited changes to the AANA Code of Ethics regarding the use of sexual appeal in advertising.
We welcomed the updated code as a step in the right direction, hoping that the change would result in more complaints against sexist and sexually exploitative advertising being upheld. We continue to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the updated code to determine whether there has been any meaningful change in the advertising content that is permitted. Here is the latest example we’ve come across.
NGU Real Estate Ad
Complaints against NGU Real Estate have been upheld by Ad Standards. The ad for the Brisbane company was dubbed sexist, objectifying and dehumanising by complainants.
The real estate company’s three minute YouTube video showed bikini clad women, often headless or faceless, in a multi-million-dollar mansion, partying on a boat and swimming in a pool. The video featured gratuitous slow-motion shots lingering on specific body parts as well as sexual innuendo between women, with one woman suggestively sucking on her finger.
A still image from the video.
Ad Standards considered possible breaches of the following industry codes.
AANA Code of Ethics, Section 2.1: Advertising or Marketing Communication shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.
The advertiser, NGU Real Estate, claimed the sexist ad did not discriminate against women because “there are no acts of inequity, bigotry or intolerance against women”, adding that the models are portrayed “in a position of power and confidence” as a justification for sexually exploiting women’s bodies and sexuality for profit. Ad Standards agreed with the advertiser’s assessment:
“The Panel noted that the women in the advertisement were depicted as comfortable and confident and did not appear to be in distress or at the property against their will.”
Ad Standards determined the advertisement did not breach Section 2.1 of the Code.
AANA Code of Ethics, Section 2.2: Advertising or Marketing Communication shall not employ sexual appeal: (a) where images of Minors, or people who appear to be Minors, are used; or (b) in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group of people.
The Panel referred to a specific scene which shows “women as being similar to cattle” and considered that this particular scene in the advertisement did employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative of women by portraying women as commodities or objects to possess.
The Panel found that the ad was in breach of Section 2.2 of the code.
AANA Code of Ethics, Section 2.4: Advertising or Marketing Communication shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
According to the case report:
“The Panel considered that there is sexual innuendo in the advertisement in the form of licking/sucking fingers and trailing fingers along shoulders but that this is only innuendo.
“The Panel noted that there is no actual nudity depicted in this advertisement. The Panel considered that the women in the advertisement are scantily clad, but that there were no nipples or genitals visible.”
The Panel found that the ad was not in breach of Section 2.4 of the code.
Ad standards is still failing women
While in this case, the complaints were upheld, it is clear that Ad Standards does not understand the nature of sexual objectification or why it is harmful. Treating women as sexualised props and defining women by their sexual appeal harms women as a whole, even if advertisers portray them as confident sexualised props. Sexual objectification may occur with or without nudity, with or without the presence of visible nipples or genitals. Ad Standards ongoing failure to grasp such concepts is alarming and indicates the current system is severely lacking.
What’s more, the many weaknesses in the code embolden advertisers to disregard Ad Standards rulings, as outlined in the final comments by NGU Real Estate:
Legal counsel advice confirms the following:
- NGU is not required by law to remove the ad or any part of the ad.
- NGU voluntarily elected to remove the instances of concern identified by the panel
and the complainant.
- The advertising standards and code are guidelines.
- Advertising is self-regulated.
- NGU did not act unlawfully.
While the revision to Section 2.2 of the AANA Code of Ethics is a step forward, we still have a long way to go.