“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.
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
The following is a complaint to Ad Standards we received from a supporter. The complaint was made in response to a Bras N Things advertisement featuring a woman wearing nothing but lacy panties and in bold red font, the words “THE TAKE IT ALL OFF SALE.”
I register this complaint under sections 2.2 and 2.4 of the AANA Code of Ethics.
This advertisement degrades women as a group by telling females to “Take it all off” — a clear double entendre that isn’t even accurate in terms of the 50% sale it is advertising. The inaccuracy of the slogan reinforces the intention of the retailer to sexualise women. The advertisement appears in full view of children (the ‘relevant audience’) walking through the mall. The slogan is short enough and simple enough to be read by children and its meaning interpreted by girls who already receive a constant bombardment of advertising messages about how their worth as humans is measured by their sexuality.
This slogan is directed at a general representation of women that exploits women sexually for the sexual aggrandisement of men, and degrades women by reducing them to objects to be consumed. It should be noted that men are not similarly sexually objectified and commodified by such types of advertising slogans.
Presumably, BNT couldn’t run with the more accurate ‘Take it half off’ — it was a 50% sale — because it would be rather too close to the common ‘Take your top off’ mantra recited by packs of young males at events such as schoolies week. The message is clearly sexual in nature and exists within the context of a rape culture in which young women are accosted by males who shout at these women things such as, ‘take your top off’, ‘get your tits out’, and ‘get it off’. If you’re not sure what rape culture is, or don’t believe it exists, then I invite you to watch this clip.
I would then invite you to explore some of the extensive literature on how the sexualisation of women by advertisers and marketers contributes to the legitimation of male violence towards women and girls. A sample of this academic, evidence-based literature can be found here.
If the Community Panel considers that the sexual appeal is only ‘mild’ — even if you consider there to be any sexual appeal at all — then the above reading list will show that ‘mild’, individual instances of sexually objectifying advertising of women all add up to the dehumanisation of women as a social class.
Please note that I am not making a complaint about nudity, how relaxed or in control of her situation the model might appear, the fact that the retailer has a right to advertise what they sell, taste, offence, choice, individualism, the personal history or consciousness of the model, the empty concept of ‘empowerment’ as it is used in relation to women’s choices. Of course there is nothing inherently degrading about a woman in underwear — but a sexualised woman being told and/or telling others to take all that underwear off degrades and exploits all women.
Have you seen an ad that sexually objectifies women? Make a complaint to Ad Standards.
Melinda Tankard Reist is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Collective Shout. She co-edited Big Porn Inc: Exposing the Harms of the Global Porn Industry.
We share in the Commons. This is a very old term that refers to public spaces inherited by, belonging to and affecting a community - the shared places in which we all live and move, work and play.
But our public spaces are contaminated, the commons mismanaged. No one has exclusive rights to these spaces, but advertisers too often engage in visual and psychological pollution, as if the commons belong exclusively to them.
This pollution happens most frequently in the presentation of women for gratification, consumption and profit. Corporate Social Responsibility, to which most companies now lay claim, is not reflected in images of women topless, having violence done to them, made submissive by fear, on their backs, up for it, adorning, adoring, decorative objects with nothing to offer but their sex. They are presented as passive, vulnerable, headless, short of clothing, as sex aids - and sometimes dead.
Why do advertisers address women in these ways, instead of in a way consistent with their dignity as persons? Why do they address the commons itself in a broadside against the very possibility of a civil society, respectful of the dignity of all?
Public advertising that addresses women in this manner conditions expectations and behaviour, and cultivates gender stereotypes in how we see and recognize others. Pioneering advertising critic Dr Jean Kilbourne, of the famed Killing Us Softly series, points out that ads do more than sell products: "They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be."
Public advertising tells us who we are and who we should be in gendered terms: men are persons of entitlement and power with clothes on, and women are ... not.
In a meta-analysis of published research in peer-reviewed English-language journals between 1995 and 2015, Monique Ward found that exposure to sexualized content results in a "diminished view of women's competence, morality, and humanity":
"A total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies were reviewed. 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."
We need to address the power of corporations to shape this diminished view of women's competence, morality and humanity. But within this contaminated global commons in which we are all subject to this sensory assault, there arises some hope.
On 28 March, the Council of Paris voted for a new contract for outdoor advertising. From January 2018, the successful outdoor advertising company J.C. Decaux is required to forego advertising that propagates sexist, homophobic, ageist, ethnic and religious discrimination, along with "degrading" or "dehumanizing" depictions of people and "images that adversely affect human dignity."
In a statement, Mayor Anne Hidalgo condemned advertising that teaches women that their degradation is acceptable: "The consequences of these degrading representations have an important impact on women, especially younger ones. They maintain ordinary sexism and help to trivialize a form of everyday violence." Hidalgo said it was time for Paris to follow the lead of London and Geneva and take similar steps toward halting the "spread, promotion and valorisation of images that degrade certain categories of citizens."
The Council's move took place against the background of Saint Laurent's Fall 2017 "porno chic" ad campaign. Ultra-thin women in fishnet stockings and stiletto roller skates were depicted splay-legged and draped over furniture. The Guardian reported that critics characterized the advertisements as "incitement to rape," with the French feminist group Osez le Feminisme! ("Dare to be Feminist!") demanding the "extremely violent" ads be removed. The campaign "ticks all the sexist boxes," said Osez le Feminisme! spokesperson Raphaelle Remy-Leleu. "The women are objectified, hyper-sexualized and put in submissive positions."
Stephane Martin, head of France's advertising regulator ARPP, which bars "degrading and humiliating" representations of people, instructed Saint Laurent to remove the posters after receiving many complaints about them. The advertising measures are connected to other policies against violence against women (VAW) in France, including the 2016 law to strengthen the fight against the prostitution system.
Under Mayor Hidalgo, Paris has developed an advertising campaign against the purchase and pimping of women. Paris has done what our cities should do. Yet, here in Australia our governments and regulatory bodies - while paying lip service to ending sexism and violence against women - continue to place the vested interests of advertisers over the wellbeing of the community.
A significant number of government inquiries and recommendations related to the impact of advertising, particularly sexualized imagery, on the community include:
- The inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment reported in June 2008. The committee stated: "This is a community responsibility which demands action by society. In particular, the onus is on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take account of these community concerns." However, close to a decade later, almost all the recommendations - including for pre-vetting of ads, the establishment of a complaints clearing house to make it easier to send a complaint, and that a review of steps taken by industry bodies to address community concerns should take place 18 months later - have not been implemented.
- In the 2011 inquiry into the regulation of outdoor advertising, the report (promisingly entitled Reclaiming Public Space) recommended that the Attorney General's Department investigate unrestricted display of racist or sexualised images in the public sphere in the context of anti-discrimination legislation. That didn't happen. The report also recommended that if self-regulation was found to be lacking, the Department would impose a self-funded co-regulatory system with government input and conduct five yearly reviews. The system has been found to be lacking, but nothing has changed to fix it.
- A Queensland inquiry into outdoor advertising in January 2014 recommended a co-regulatory approach. This was dismissed by the State government which "considers the current system is mostly effective in regulating advertisers." Recommendations from a 2014 West Australia inquiry also met with a lukewarm response from government.
- The terms of reference for last year's NSW inquiry into the sexualisation of children came to nothing. Remarkably, while tasked with examining the "adequacy of current measures to regulate sexual imagery in media and advertising" and while acknowledging strong evidence of harm, and that "concrete steps be taken" to eliminate the impact, advertising didn't rate a mention in a single recommendation.
- The Domestic Violence and Gender Inequality report of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, also tabled at the end of last year, noted concerns about how gender roles and stereotypes can be reinforced and sustained through popular culture and media, yet failed to put forward any new policy to address this.
Governments continue to offload their ethical duties to citizens. Ours is a system that relies on complaints: citizens are required to do the regulating because of a "hands off" approach. While I'm all for civic responsibility, the dismissal of complaints and the terms by which they are dismissed make the job too difficult.
There are no pre-vetting of ads before posting - such as a bestiality image in the middle of Sydney's CBD to promote Fox studio's Sexpo advertising on buses in school zones, billboards for sex clubs overlooking school playgrounds, General Pants shop windows covered with posters of women being stripped, and glamourized sexual violence as a marketing tool for companies like Calvin Klein and Wicked Campers spreading misogyny on every corner.
There are, moreover, no penalties for non-compliance. Despite complaints upheld against Wicked Camper vans for racist, misogynist and homophobic slogans and images, the company continues to ignore Advertising Standards Board rulings. The response of the shopping mall sex shop Honey Birdette to a recent board ruling was a contemptuous: "No one tells Honey Birdette when to take down her signage!"
Because so many complaints are dismissed and so few upheld, and because of the language in which dismissals are phrased, a message is sent that this kind of advertising is tolerable. The case-by-case approach to responding to individual complaints does not acknowledge the "drip-drip effect" - that is, the cumulative impact of all of it across society and over time. The way in which we absorb these messages is not on a case-by-case basis.
Those concerned about the treatment of women and girls in this hostile environment, and who are fighting for sexist advertising to be viewed as contrary to our anti-discrimination laws, are tired of their evidence-based concerns being dismissed by those tasked with governing for the common good. As my colleague Laura McNally, who is completing a PhD on Corporate Social Responsibility, writes, we have to tackle a culture of sexual objectification if we are to make any inroads in efforts to address violence against women:
"Sexual objectification creates a culture of impunity toward violence against girls and women. One where abusers feel justified because 'she wanted it'. And one where girls feel disallowed to speak out because they are seen as mere objects. Objectification not only undermines gender equality but also thwarts efforts to reduce issues like violence against women. As documentary filmmaker Jean Kilbourne says turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person. The focus needs to shift, instead of scrutinising or blaming the girls and women affected, we must scrutinise the culture and industry that makes sexual objectification so widely accepted and increasingly expected of girls and women."
The only changes that happen are when activist groups like Collective Shout (of I'm a co-founder) force companies to change due to hard-hitting campaigns exposing their corporate social irresponsibility. And, to address the glaring gap in governance, Collective Shout has launched a social responsibility initiative for ethical business behaviour. Companies are invited to sign the Corporate Social Responsibility pledge, which is a statement of intention not to objectify women and sexualize girls in products, services and advertising.
Those of us who have spent more than a decade tracking the multiple abuses in the system look wistfully toward Paris and ask: why can't this be done here? Why would our government want to protect an industry that has shown little regard for the wellbeing of children and young people, who are especially harmed by advertising that conveys to them distorted ideas about their bodies, relationships and sexuality? Why doesn't it compel the industry to act consistently with laws against discrimination and for equality?
What is the point of government-funded programs in schools to teach boys how to respect girls, while the government remains complacent in a broader culture that is wallpapered with images that teach them disrespect?
The Australian government has its own obligations to social responsibility - namely, our government is a signatory of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Goal 3 of the MDGs is gender equality and empowerment of women. The Australian government has an obligation to action and report against this target, but also to collaborate with corporates in achieving them. Yet, the advertising industry remains free to shore up gender inequality with degrading and exploitative imagery in the public space. Not only are corporates regularly violating their own obligations to social responsibility, but the Australian government fails here too.
Governments across the globe are holding big polluters to account. Industries like oil and gas are increasingly expected to redress the health impacts of their environmental pollution. When will advertisers be held to account for the psychological harms of their visual pollution?
As citizens, we are not allowed to let our dogs defecate in public. Paris has decided that advertisers too, can no longer pollute the commons. Australia should do the same. Free markets shouldn't have unfettered freedom to demean women and girls in advertising and marketing. Australia, it's time to follow Paris.
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.
“Why do girls’ dysfunctional clothes prioritise their looks over their freedom? And why do we parents buy them?”
A recent article on SBS described a mother’s frustration over the process of trying to buy appropriate clothing and footwear for her young daughter. Most of the clothing is designed to be pretty rather than comfortable or practical. Louise Wedgwood writes:
When shopping for my eldest, a boy, it’s a breeze to find shoes that are comfortable to play in and practical for parks and puddles.
When I stood in front of the girls’ sections in three different major retailers, I was perplexed each time. Why is almost EVERYTHING pink, frilly or sparkly? How are pale fabrics and glittery finishes to withstand the rigours of play?
On that first naive shoe-buying mission at my local shopping centres, I was desperate to go home with something. So I bought the most practical shoes I could find – Mary Janes in a sparkly rose gold canvas, and glittery jelly sandals.
From birth, girls’ “cutest” outfits are usually dresses. But they can be unwieldy to move in, and girls in dresses are discouraged from climbing, hanging upside down or doing anything else fun that might show their undies.
I’ve unwittingly restricted my daughter with dresses. We were given a sweet purple cotton dress with white polka dots, buttons down the back and contrasting frills on the edges. I popped it on my daughter for a playdate with a baby boy the same age, around 10 months old. They were both eager explorers but she kept getting tangled in the skirt and couldn’t crawl in it, navigate stairs or climb onto furniture. As soon as we got home, I changed her into leggings.
If an alien landed in any of our major retailers, you could forgive them for assuming girls and boys are different species. Girls’ t-shirts encourage them to be "sweet and fun" and "hug your heart out". Meanwhile boys' shirts instruct them to “say yes to new adventures”, “fly away with me” and be superheroes.”
Both boys’ and girls’ slogans limit them to narrow stereotypes but the girls’ are particularly uninspiring. “Those companies are selling sexism, basically, the idea of a subordinate female or a dominant male,” according to Dr Hannah McCann, a gender studies lecturer at the University of Melbourne.