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
In response to the global outcry over the children’s film Show Dogs, the Australian Classifications Board issued a media release. This was after the production company had promised to withdraw the film and re-cut it to remove the offending scenes, however, only minimal content was removed, with scenes featuring the dog Max having his genitals touched against his will remaining in the movie. Classifications Board referred to the scenes in question, involving the dog Max having his private parts touched against his will, as scenes that ‘may cause offence to some viewers’:
The Board is aware of social media commentary over the past couple of days that a scene or two in Show Dogs, may cause offence to some viewers, who are of the opinion that the touching of a dog character’s genitals, and the accompanying dialogue, may promote acceptance of grooming of children for sexual exploitation.
Reducing the issue to mere ‘offence’ is problematic. The concerns from parents, survivors, child advocates and organisations dedicated to fighting against child sexual abuse are not that individuals will be ‘offended’. They are about the disturbing and dangerous messages to children about sexual touching when the main character, Max, must put aside his discomfort and endure having his private parts touched, after which he is rewarded.
The Classifications Board assert that context is crucial, and on this basis suggest that scenes of the dog having his private parts touched against his will were assessed as thematic content. They went on, saying, “There is no suggestion in the film that the dog is a metaphor for a child.”
Long-time activist and Collective Shout supporter Melinda Liszewski addressed these sentiments below:
“The concern about the movie reflects a community putting thought into the media created and designed to be consumed by our children.
“This practice of inspecting genitals is common in dog shows, but there are a lot of other things about dog shows that I’m sure aren’t in the movie. The writer made deliberate choices about what to include and what to leave out. The scenes in question were included to get a cheap laugh, but this is where lack of consideration for their target audience comes in. Consulting with anyone specialising in child development, child psychologists would go a long way. They can spot issues others wouldn’t immediately recognise. Really important issues.
“So we can't say this is a realistic true to life depiction of dog shows, or dogs. They're anthropomorphised dogs. We have assigned human personalities, reactions, feelings, goals and fears. These are talking dogs. These are characters that exist for the children to identify with, to go on a journey with, to overcome obstacles with through this story.
“These dogs are not reacting how a dog would react, they are reacting how a human would react in the same circumstance. This is portrayed for an audience of young children. The statistics say one in five children will be sexually abused in their life so we know that in the audience of children viewing that film, some of those children are abused children. The idea of 'going to a happy place' while enduring unwanted touching is called dissociation. We are not doing children any favours by normalising the idea that people - again, the dogs are humanised - enduring unwanted touching is normal.
“My conclusion is this – it’s not a good thing if some children don't give this a second thought. This shouldn't be normalised and used to get a cheap laugh.”
Response from cinemas
We are pleased to report that several Australian cinemas have responded to community concern over the messages in this film. The film is not being promoted by Cineplex, Village Cinemas, Grand Cinemas, Dendy Cinemas or ACE Cinemas. Majestic Cinemas have confirmed they will not be screening the film, and Deny have told us that at this stage they have no plans to release the film.
The following cinemas have failed to respond to community concerns over the movie, still promoting the film despite being informed as to the issues: Hoyts, Event Cinemas, Palace Cinemas and Wallis Cinemas.
Both Wallis Cinemas and Hoyts have referenced the re-cut, yet neither of them will clarify whether the film is to be re-cut for a second time to remove all scenes where the dog submits to unwanted genital touching, or if they are referring to the initial and unsatisfactory cuts which still included scenes of unwanted genital touching.
Contact your local cinema here, and let us know how you go!
*UPDATE: CNN has reported the film will undergo edits to remove the objectionable content!*
Child advocates have accused new kids film Show Dogs of sending “a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse”. The film was released in the US last week, and is not scheduled to be released in Australia until July.
The film follows the story of a police dog going undercover at a dog show. There are reportedly several scenes in which the dog, Max, has to have his genitals inspected. When he is uncomfortable and wants to stop he is told to go to a ‘zen place’. When he does this, he can advance to the final round of the dog show.
National Center on Sexual Exploitation has called on distribution company Global Road Entertainment to halt the distribution of Show Dogs in movie theaters and recut the movie:
“The dog is rewarded with advancing to the final round of the dog show after passing this barrier. Disturbingly, these are similar tactics child abusers use when grooming children — telling them to pretend they are somewhere else, and that they will get a reward for withstanding their discomfort.
“Children’s movies must be held to a higher standard, and must teach children bodily autonomy, the ability to say ‘no’ and safety, not confusing messages endorsing unwanted genital touching.”
Reviewers, too, have expressed their discomfort over the scenes in question.
Slate writer Ruth Graham called it “unsettling on several levels”.
“First, this is a children’s movie in which the protagonist’s success depends on withstanding a stranger touching his genitals even though it makes him uncomfortable,” she wrote.
“The movie’s solution to Max’s discomfort with the inspection is not to empower him to escape it somehow; it’s to have him learn to checkout mentally while he endures it, and to make no outward sign of his humiliation. It is not paranoid to say that this is a bad message for kids.”
Writer Jenny Rapson echoed those sentiments in a blog post on For Every Mom: “Max’s success is riding on whether or not he lets both his partner (for practice) and a stranger (the competition judge) touch his private parts. IN A KIDS MOVIE. WHAT??? Newsflash, folks: THIS IS CALLED GROOMING and it’s what sexual predators do to kids!”
Writer Terina Maldonado wrote on family film blog Macaroni Kid that “during the movie, I kept thinking, “This is wrong, it doesn’t need to be in a kids movie. Everything else in the movie is good fun except for this.”
In response to the outcry, Global Road Entertainment, co-producers of the film released a statement to CNN:
“The dog show judging in this film is depicted completely accurately as done at shows around the world; and was performed by professional and highly-respected dog show judges,” the statement said in part. “Global Road Entertainment and the filmmakers are saddened and apologise to any parent who feels the scene sends a message other than a comedic moment in the film, with no hidden or ulterior meaning, but respect their right to react to any piece of content.”
One of the writers of the film has spoken out against the scenes in question, claiming that they were written into the script by of the “13 other writers” who worked on the movie.
“[I] didn’t get to see the film until it was in its final stage of completion, and had zero say in creative choices the second I signed away the rights to my work.”
“I absolutely condemn any suggestion or act of non-consensual touching in any form, as well as disassociation as a coping mechanism for abuse of any kind. I understand and empathise with the parents’ and groups’ concerns regarding the message the movie may impart,” he said.
Children’s charity Bravehearts is also calling for a ban on the Australian Classification Board to ban the film:
Bravehearts is responding to reports this children’s film contains multiple scenes where a dog character must have its private parts inspected and manhandled. When the dog feels uncomfortable and wants it to stop is then told to just go to a ‘zen place’ and is later rewarded for his consent by being advanced to the final round of the dog show. This message is not only wrong, but it promotes acceptance of grooming and goes against the very basic principles of child protection.
Cineplex Theatres have already pulled the film:
Be sure to follow our Facebook page for further updates.
According to the New York Times, NFL cheerleaders were required to pose nude and act as escorts for male sponsors.
Photo: Patrick Smith, Getty Images
In a calendar shoot in 2013, cheerleaders had been required to pose topless or only in body paint while a group of male sponsors and FedExField suite holders watched.
At the completion of the calendar photoshoot, nine of the women were told they had been “chosen” by men to be their escorts to a nightclub and to get ready. Some of the women reportedly began to cry.
While they were not instructed to have sex with the sponsors, some women said they felt they were being “pimped out”.
“They weren’t putting a gun to our heads, but it was mandatory for us to go. We weren’t asked, we were told. Other girls were devastated because we knew exactly what she was doing.”
“It’s just not right to send cheerleaders out with strange men when some of the girls clearly don’t want to go.
“But unfortunately, I feel like it won’t change until something terrible happens, like a girl is assaulted in some way, or raped. I think teams will start paying attention to this only when it’s too late.”
This disturbing culture of sexism and discrimination with the NFL includes a “hot or not” game on the Washington NFL team’s website, where players can rate and evaluate the women’s physical appearance. Cheerleaders barely earn minimum wage, and are not permitted to socialise with team players:
Cheerleaders are told not to dine in the same restaurant as players, or speak to them in any detail. If a Saints cheerleader enters a restaurant and a player is already there, she must leave. If a cheerleader is in a restaurant and a player arrives afterward, she must leave. There are nearly 2,000 players in the N.F.L., and many of them use pseudonyms on social media. Cheerleaders must find a way to block each one, while players have no limits on who can follow them.
A screengrab of the Redskins website, with the “hot or not” game.
See also: Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Describe Topless Photo Shoot and Uneasy Night Out- New York Times
Most people recognise sex trafficking as a serious human rights violation, but what about prostitution?
There is sometimes a perception of sex trafficking and prostitution as two separate and unrelated issues, with trafficking being viewed as forced, and prostitution as freely chosen. However, the two are intrinsically connected- the demand for prostitution fuels sex trafficking.
A study of 150 countries found that legalised prostitution leads to an expansion of the prostitution market, increasing human trafficking, and that on average, countries where prostitution is legal experience larger human trafficking inflows. Essentially, legitimising and normalising the sex industry leads to a rise in trafficking, as women must be brought in to meet increased demand.
German Detective Superintendent Helmut Sporer described the devastating impacts of legalising the sex industry in Germany, including worsened conditions for women, greater power to pimps and organised crime gangs and a significant increase in trafficking:
“What is very important here is the awareness of the fact that prostitution and trafficking are a joint phenomenon. There is no such thing as clean, good prostitution on the one hand and quite separate from this the bad trafficking with pimping on the other.”
One prostitution survivor highlighted some of the commonalities between supposedly ‘forced’ and ‘free’ sexual exploitation:
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are intrinsically linked: you have one because of the other. For the last 18 months of my time on the Burlington Road, I stood alongside a trafficked woman. She became my closest friend, and I have never seen a human being so broken down. The conditions in which she lived were inhumane, and, although we had arrived at the same place through different means, we were connected because we were bought, used, exploited, humiliated and raped by the same offenders. One night I would be bought, and, a few nights later, the same man would buy her. On a couple of occasions, we were bought together. That connection can never be broken by anyone at any time in any country.”
In 2003 Dorchen Leidholdt, Co-Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women International summed up the connection between prostitution and trafficking as follows:
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are the same human rights catastrophe, whether in local or global guise. Both are part of a system of gender-based domination that makes violence against women and girls profitable to a mind-boggling extreme. Both prey on women and girls made vulnerable by poverty, discrimination and violence and leave them traumatised, sick and impoverished. Both reward predators sexually and financially, strengthening both the demand for criminal operations that ensure the supply.
“The concerted effort by some NGOs and governments to disconnect trafficking from prostitution- to treat them as a distinct and unrelated phenomena- is nothing less than a deliberate political strategy aimed at legitimizing the sex industry and protecting its growth and profitability.”
Pic: Dorchen Leidholdt
Sweden’s solution to prostitution and trafficking, the ‘Nordic model’
The Nordic model was implemented in Sweden in 1999 after extensive research, and it is based on the view of prostitution as a form of men’s violence against women.
The Nordic model criminalises the demand for sexual exploitation, decriminalises those exploited, and provides exit pathways for individuals in prostitution who wish to leave the industry. As Swedish lawyer Gunilla Ekberg explains:
“One of the cornerstones of Swedish policies against prostitution and trafficking in human beings is the focus on the root cause, the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the global prostitution industry would not be able to flourish and expand.”
Various human rights organisations, academics and prostitution survivors advocate for the implementation of the Nordic model, which has been adopted in a growing number of countries around the world, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France and Ireland.
Progress under the Nordic model
Since Sweden's legislation criminalising the buying of sex, considerable progress has been made. According to research out of the Nordic Gender Institute, the number of men buying sex has decreased from 13.6% in 1996 to 7.9% in 2008. Street prostitution in Sweden has halved while in neighbouring countries such as Norway and Denmark it is estimated to be three times higher. Police have intercepted phone correspondence between pimps and traffickers who now regard Sweden as an unattractive market and suggest Denmark, Germany or Holland (where prostitution is legal) as more profitable alternatives. Reportedly, there has been a cultural shift in Sweden where it is no longer considered acceptable to purchase another person.
As proponents of the Nordic model attest, we cannot oppose sex trafficking of women and children and simultaneously support the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution. Sex trafficking would cease to exist if men stopped buying women. There can never be gender equality while women are commodities to be bought and sold.
Campaigners and survivors of sex trafficking celebrated last week after amendments to US federal law would hold websites facilitating sex trafficking accountable. In response to the legislation, various major websites including Craigslist and Reddit have implemented major changes- and now, federal law enforcement authorities are in the process of seizing Backpage.com and its affiliated websites.
The websites are being seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service, according to a notice that appeared Friday afternoon on Backpage.com.
The notice didn’t characterize or provide any details on the nature of the enforcement action.
It said that authorities planned to release information about the enforcement action later Friday.
Backpage.com lets users create posts to sell items, seek roommates, participate in forums, list upcoming events or advertise job openings.
But Backpage.com also has listings for adult escorts and other sexual services, and authorities say that advertising related to those services has been extremely lucrative.
Campaigners and survivors of sex trafficking are celebrating what has been dubbed “the most important anti-trafficking legislation in a generation”.
According to the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, despite investigations by the U.S. Congress, websites that facilitate sex trafficking have not been held to account. New amendments to the “outdated” law, the Communications Decency Act (CDA) would allow victims of sexual exploitation to pursue legal actions against these websites and aid prosecutors in bringing charges against them.
A still image from the 2017 documentary I am Jane Doe.
As reported in the Washington Post:
The legislation arose as Congress learned that its current anti-trafficking laws could not be applied to websites like Backpage, which host thousands of ads daily for female and male prostitutes, some of which are children being trafficked by adults. Backpage has successfully cited the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from liability for material posted by third parties, to evade both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.
Congress launched an investigation into Backpage which showed that its operators helped customers modify their ads to delete references to teenage prostitutes, yet still allowed the ads to run. The Washington Post then reported that Backpage used a company in the Philippines to solicit both prostitutes and johns from other websites, and created new ads for the prostitutes.
In response to the amendments, various major sites have implemented significant changes:
Cityvibe shut down completely, the Erotic Review, the “Yelp of the sex trade” where men rate their experiences with trafficking victims, shut down advertisement boards in the United States, NightShift shut down to review policies, VerifyHim shut down its “newsreel,” Craigslist personals section was shut down, Reddit’s prostitution-related “subreddits” were marked private and the site instituted new policies banning the sale of sex acts and drugs, Google reportedly deleted its publicly shared commercial sex-related advertising, WordPress.com reportedly removed its commercial sex-related advertising sites, Paypal reportedly disabled advertised accounts for commercial sex-related payment, Rubmaps, Erotic Monkey, and USA Sex Guide had extended maintenance periods over the weekend, suggesting upcoming changes due to the new law, Microsoft is issuing new Terms of Service effective May 1st covering all of its platforms, including Skype and Xbox, to urge users not to use the services to share pornography or criminal activity. Read more.
This is a massive victory for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.
Watch the trailer for 2017 documentary I am Jane Doe
Backpage’s Sex Ads Are Gone. Child Trafficking? Hardly. New York Times
The #MeToo movement has taken the world by storm, exposing the endemic exploitation and abuse of women and girls by men across a range of industries. The social media campaign to hold predatory men accountable for their actions has sparked a global dialogue, forcing many to re-evaluate their sexist attitudes and practices.
In the wake of this cultural shift, Formula One has announced plans to end the long-standing traditional of ‘grid girls’, clearly recognising that the use of attractive women as props or accessories for men is “clearly at odds with modern day societal norms.”
The growing refusal to tolerate casual sexism poses a problem for companies who rely on it in order to function.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, a magazine serving up an array of sexy, young women in bikinis for the viewing pleasure of a male audience, is set to hit newsstands this week. This year’s edition will feature a nude spread entitled ‘In Her Own Words’, a collection of photos of naked women with words scrawled across their bodies that apparently represent who they are.
According to the magazine’s Instagram, the series of naked women in the men’s girlie mag is intended to celebrate “more than just their bodies”. Which begs the question, why are they posed naked? Surely if the aim is to humanise the women included rather than to sexualise them, stripping them off, laying them on the ground passively and photographing them naked isn’t the best way to achieve this?
The project is being pitched by magazine editor MJ Day as empowering, as a means of giving women a voice (just not clothes). Day tells Vanity Fair the shoot is about “allowing women to exist in the world without being harassed or judged regardless of how they like to present themselves.”
What we’re seeing is the same routine objectification of women, the treatment of women first and foremost as bodies to be looked at, as passive objects, but Day assures us this is different. This time it’s revolutionary, about women’s right to self-expression or to be objectified- while the magazine conveniently profits.
By framing the conversation as one about women’s choices, the spotlight is on the women posing, and not the magazine who orchestrated the shoot. Sports Illustrated can continue to operate the same way as always, profiting from exploiting women’s bodies and sexuality, but now they can call it ‘female empowerment’.
The female models are still sexualised, their naked bodies used as canvases and offered up for male consumption. How is this particular photoshoot different from the everyday sexualised depictions of women in mainstream media and popular culture, while their male counterparts remain fully clothed and posed with dignity and strength? Is anything being challenged at all? It’s the same old sexism, but repackaged as progressive and feminist.
The PR machine keeps spinning, with Day attempting to associate the brand, a bikini mag with naked women, with the #MeToo movement in a Vanity Fair article entitled ‘Meet the First Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of the #MeToo Era’.
The swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated is dominated by sexually objectifying portrayals of women, treating women as masturbatory material for men. In doing so, it contributes to and reinforces the second-class status of women, the notion that women exist for men, for their enjoyment and use, and that women’s value is determined by their physical appearance and sexual appeal- essentially, their ability to attract men. This frequent reduction of women to sexual objects is incompatible with gender equality.
Twenty years of empirical research, 135 studies from 109 publications, indicate that sexualisation and objectification of women has a range of negative effects. Consistent evidence found that:
"regular, everyday exposure to [sexually objectifying portrayals of women] 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."
The treatment of women as sexual objects and the diminishing of women’s humanity cannot work alongside a social movement fighting for women’s human rights. The sexual objectification of women for profit is in direct contradiction with efforts to eradicate the exploitation of women. Treating women as sex objects doesn’t suddenly become a feminist act just because the photographer is a woman.
When corporates, whose primary goal is to sell a product, attempt to capitalise on a social movement or cause, we should absolutely be wary of their motives.
We all know that hot, naked women in Sports Illustrated isn’t about celebrating women or giving them a voice- it’s about selling magazines.
“These are sexy photos…at the end of the day, we’re always going to be sexy, no matter what is happening,” says Day.
See article, originally printed in Sydney Morning Herald here.
A 22 year old man who was caught with child pornography involving babies, coerced a teenage girl into sending him nude photos before publically humiliating her by posting them to Instagram. At the age of just 20, Alastair Wayne Anning was found with about 10,000 photos and videos of child exploitation which he downloaded using an app he thought was untraceable. Judge Devereaux sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment, suspended after three months.
A Mackay man caught with more than 1000 “disturbing” child pornography images and videos secretly filmed his 15 year old stepdaughter showering with a friend and using the toilet. Judge Dick handed down an 18 month sentence but the man will serve just 5 months in prison before that term is suspended for 2 years.
A paramedic has been charged with possession of “disturbing, repulsive” child pornography images and movies. Police located 13 movies in total and 4426 images – the majority classified as one of the most grossly offensive type of child exploitation material including acts of penetration and sadism. Judge Burnett ordered Parsons to a sentence of 15 months jail, suspended after 2 months.
These are just a few examples of people charged with possession of child exploitation material in the last month. The sentences are very similar, and lenient, across the board.
In early 2017, Collective Shout launched a campaign to hold people who access child exploitation material more accountable for their actions. This accountability also needs to be directed towards internet service providers and their obligation to better monitor what their users are accessing.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to write a submission for the inquiry into the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2017. In our submission we agreed wholeheartedly that sentences for accessing child exploitation material needed to be increased. The above examples give you a general cross section of the types of sentences being handed down.
In addition to harsher sentencing, we also called on government to introduce legislation to increase liability for carriers (internet service providers) to more closely monitor and report on people accessing child exploitation material. Some fantastic recommendations came out of the inquiry, including increasing penalties for ISP’s for failing to pass on information, having a more formal reporting process, and allowing the Australian Federal Police to access service users personal details. Unfortunately, due to privacy laws surrounding service provider/service user relationships, ISP’s are not obligated to pass on client information.
The amendments to the Crimes Legislation Bill have already been debated twice in Parliament in 2017 and are scheduled to be debated again early 2018. At this stage, there has been no debate about the responsibilities of ISP’s, just debate around increasing sentencing penalties.
The United Kingdom has introduced “opt in” rules for people wishing to access the internet. If a service user wants to access 18+ content, they have to let their ISP know and provide their credit card details and proof of age. This allows police and ISP’s to better track people who are accessing child exploitation material. In Australia, you have to “opt out” of seeing this content or use internet filters. The UK model is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction to continue to crack down on people accessing and sharing child exploitation material.
Collective Shout will continue to lobby MP’s and work with other organisations to make sure ISP’s obligations are at the forefront of any bill amendments. Thank you so much for your support during 2017! We could not have achieved what we have without your help.
"There are examples where people have been wanting to see the violent rape of children five, six, seven years old; and other, very violent acts carried out against very young children." - Chief Judge John Pascoe
Image: Melinda Tankard Reist meets with Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore who originally pushed for amendments to the Criminal Code on child exploitation materialRead more