Lesbians have slammed sex shop Honey Birdette for fetishising and objectifying lesbians in its latest ad campaign. The ‘Fluid’ campaign, set to coincide with the forthcoming Sydney Mardi Gras Festival, depicts an orgy of naked men and women with bodies painted in Pride colours, groping each other.
Liz Waterhouse from Listening 2 Lesbians, which documents lesbian experiences of violence and discrimination around the world, said Honey Birdette presented lesbians as available for the sexual gratification of men.
“Calling the campaign ‘Fluid’ combined with the presentation of objectified, sexually available lesbians, clearly communicates to the men watching that lesbian sexuality is fluid enough for lesbians to be sexually available to them,” Ms Waterhouse said.
“In a world where lesbians are harassed and attacked for our sexuality, for not being available to men, this is a dangerous game to play with lesbian lives.”
Ms Waterhouse said lesbians needed space to exist free of tokenism and sexual objectification.
“We all want to live in a world where lesbians are safe, where lesbian lives are celebrated and where lesbian representation gives hope and strength to young lesbians working out their sexuality. Honey Birdette’s campaign takes us further away from that world.”
Susan Hawthorne, author, poet and publisher at Australia’s only feminist and lesbian publisher Spinifex Press, accused Honey Birdette of sexualising lesbians.
“Using lesbians as titillation is not unusual, pornographers have been doing it for decades,” Ms Hawthorne said.
“But in the real world real lesbians are tortured for our activism; real lesbians are subjected to corrective rape; and in the real world when a lesbian is raped or tortured she doesn't get to say stop. Not only are you continuing the sexualising of women, you are giving mixed messages with images of a mixed orgy.”
Collective Shout has campaigned against Honey Birdette’s pornified representations of women for close to a decade. Honey Birdette has been found in breach of Ad Standards rulings 31 times since January 2018.
“Far from promoting equality, this is an act of rainbow washing for profit,” Ms Roper said. “The company claims diversity while featuring flawless bodies and large-breasted women”.
The ad has received an outpouring of criticism on Honey Birdette’s Instagram and Facebook page, including for “profiting off of Pride” and as a “blatant attempt to cover up an orgy with a rainbow filter”.
Collective Shout has supported a petition launched by Melbourne father of three Kenneth Thor directed at CEOs of shopping centres which host Honey Birdette’s porn-inspired portrayals which has attracted almost 77,000 signatures. Honey Birdette has a counter petition which we have been told by a source close to the company comprises a large percentage of fake names added by staff.
[caitlin at collectiveshout.org]
February 20, 2020
"In a world where lesbians are harassed and attacked for our sexuality, for not being available to men, this is a dangerous game to play with lesbian lives."
Honey Birdette have released their latest advertising campaign, set to coincide with the Sydney Mardi Gras festival. The campaign depicts an orgy, featuring naked men and women whose bodies are painted in the Pride colours. Many of the women included are headless, but their naked breasts made it into the frame. Below is a censored image of the campaign:
Honey Birdette has consistently delivered sexist and pornified representations of women to flog their overpriced lingerie and sex toys, ignoring 42 Ad Standards rulings against it for violating the code of ethics. But far from promoting equality, the company’s long history of porn-inspired depictions of lesbian sexuality further entrenches sexist and harmful stereotypes of lesbians as male entertainment, and these latest images will likely be enjoyed by men.
Lesbians condemn Honey Birdette rainbow-washing
A number of lesbians have responded to Honey Birdette’s ad campaign, calling the company out for tokenising and fetishising lesbians to promote their brand.
“If there's no difference between a female nipple and a male nipple why are all but one of the visible nipples female? Using lesbians as titillation is not unusual, the pornographers have been doing it for decades. But in the real world real lesbians are tortured for our activism; real lesbians are subjected to corrective rape; and in the real world when a lesbian is raped or tortured she doesn't get to say stop. Not only are you continuing the sexualising of women, you are giving mixed messages with images of a mixed orgy.”
-Susan Hawthorne, lesbian activist and writer
“Lesbians have fought for centuries for society to understand that lesbian sexuality is not for or about men, resisting the harassment, fetishisation, corrective rape and physical attacks that lesbians here and around the world have experienced. Honey Birdette has developed a campaign that is heavily reliant on the sexualisation of lesbian bodies and the presentation of lesbian sexuality. The argument that there is no difference between male and female nipples is meaningless in a world that sexualises women so consistently.
“Calling the campaign ‘Fluid’ combined with the presentation of objectified, sexually available lesbians clearly communicates to the men watching that lesbian sexuality is fluid enough for lesbians to be sexually available to them. In a world where lesbians are harassed and attacked for our sexuality, for not being available to men, this is a dangerous game to play with lesbian lives.
“Framing opposition as conservative is to miss the point of our concerns. It is neither puritanical nor conservative to want to carve out space for lesbians to exist free of tokenism or sexual objectification in a deeply sexualised society. This campaign sells out lesbian sexuality for profit, which is not excused by the fact that Honey Birdette’s founder and her partner are the women in the shoot.
“We all want to live in a world where lesbians are safe, where lesbian lives are celebrated and where lesbian representation gives hope and strength to young lesbians working out their sexuality. Honey Birdette’s Fluid campaign takes us further away from that world.”
-Liz Waterhouse, Listening2Lesbians https://listening2lesbians.com/"
"This type of advertising further entrenches the straight-male fetishisation of lesbians, which is a huge problem. Lesbians are seen as sexual objects who are still sexually and romantically available for men (largely as a result of the pornification of lesbians and their romantic relationships) and this type of advertising only reinforces this. It also plays into homophobia by reducing gay and lesbian relationships to sex without any meaningful emotional connection - a long-held homophobic view that assumes only straight relationships can be 'real' or 'meaningful."
Another poorly received PR stunt for Honey Birdette
This is not the first time Honey Birdette has attempted to capitalise on a social movement or political issue for PR purposes. In 2017, the company staged a pro-same sex marriage demonstration- a lingerie flash mob featuring models wearing Honey Birdette products and holding signs like “I heart HB”. The move was rightly slammed on social media, with one user describing the stunt as a “money grab” that was “worse than the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad”. ABC’s Media Watch described the apparent marketing ploy as “a pretty obvious attempt to hijack an issue for commercial reasons”.
Comments on Honey Birdette's Instagram account indicate the campaign has not been well received. Commenters have questioned the company's motives, labelling the marketing ploy as "insincere" and "disingenuous", and accusing the company of 'rainbow washing', a term which refers to corporates using rainbow colours or imagery to indicate support for the LGBT community but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.
"This is more selling sex than solidarity."
"If you swapped the homosexuals for heterosexuals I am positive you could still not this image in your Australian stores. #notaboutlgbti"
"Orgy, perfect body's, white race, no underwear. What the f*** is this? Diversity? LGBT? Doesn't look like it at all. I think it is more a slap in the face to the community." (sic)
"I don't think this shows anyone wearing honey birdette so I don't get why you have it as an advertisement other than to hope on the bandwagon of attempting to profit off pride when you can't be bothered to do anything else for equality or diversity with your company" (sic)
"...this seems very insincere and a fake attempt at selling equality. I'm seeing through the bs." (sic)
"Meanwhile you donated a measly $10,000 to QueerStories? A HB bra costs around $140. This feels much more like HB attempting to hijack a social movement to boost their own image."
"They aren't promoting true diversity since everyone just seem to have western facial features and they all have certain body figure...this isn't a promotion of diversity, it's just one of mere commercials." (sic)
Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette- ABC Religion and Ethics
Honey Birdette's crusade to pornify the public space- Collective Shout
KFC has issued a non-apology: In a short statement issued on Tuesday, KFC said: “We apologise if anyone was offended by our latest commercial. Our intention was not to stereotype women and young boys in a negative light.”Read more
Michael Flood, Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology, has recently written about the harmful impacts that porn is having on young people.
For many young people, pornography has become the default sex educator. Children and young people are encountering pornography in greater numbers, at younger ages, and with a wider variety of content, influencing young people’s sexual lives.
Research evidence from around the world shows porn has harmful impacts on young people and adults alike. Some impacts are deeply troubling, particularly pornography’s contribution to sexual violence.
Pornography can shift sexual interests, behaviours and relationships. It shapes “sexual scripts”, providing models of behaviour and guiding sexual expectations, with studies finding links between watching pornography and heterosexual anal intercourse, unsafe sex and more.
Watching pornography can lower men’s relationship satisfaction. And for women, male partners’ pornography use can reduce intimacy, feed self-objectification and body shame, or involve coercion into sexual acts.
But these next areas of impact concern me most.
Pornography teaches sexist and sexually objectifying understandings of gender and sexuality. For instance, in a randomised experimental study among young men in Denmark, exposure to (nonviolent) pornography led to less egalitarian attitudes and higher levels of hostile sexism. And in a longitudinal study among US adolescents, increased use of pornography predicted more sexist attitudes for girls two years later.
Aggression, largely by males and overwhelmingly against females, is common in pornography: an analysis of top-selling and top-renting titles found 88% of scenes showed aggression.
Men who use pornography more often are more likely to practise or desire dominant, degrading practices, such as gagging and choking. And women who use pornography are more likely to practise or desire submissive practices.
In fact, longitudinal studies among adolescents find watching pornography is linked to sexually violent behaviour later in life. In a US study, people who watched violent pornography were more than six times as likely to engage in sexually aggressive behaviour. In another, it predicted more frequent sexual harassment perpetration two years later.
In Collective Shout's submission to Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet we recommended:
- The Australian Government should work with Internet Service Providers to establish a scheme for all existing and new customers to be provided with a default family friendly setting (no pornography) with opt-out only permitted by account holders who can establish that they are aged 18 years or over. Regulations to impose this requirement should be considered as a backup if after 12 months insufficient progress has been made by ISPs towards this goal.
- New programs should be designed with respectful and mutual relationships as the starting point, not just ‘sex education’. Young people want content based on their real lives and experiences – information that empowers and equips them to make healthy decisions about their sexuality.
- All children and young people should have access to comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality and relationships education that promotes respectful and mutual relationships.
- The school curriculum should, in an age-appropriate manner, specifically address the influence of media, including the influence of pornography and the sex industry more broadly. We believe it is not enough to adopt a public health perspective, but that a gender equality perspective is also crucial in understanding these problems.
- School communities – including teachers, wellbeing staff and school leaders – should have access to quality professional learning, support and resources, to support them in implementing comprehensive relationships and sexuality education. This should include specialist support to address the influence of pornography.
- Pre-service teacher training should include learning about the influence of pornography and how to address it through respectful relationships and sexuality curricula, and in other relevant learning areas.
- Parents and carers should have access to information and resources to support them to parent effectively in this relatively new context of easy and anonymous access to pornography. This should include support to understand the issues, and practical advice about how to manage technology to minimise exposure and how to support their children’s reflective and critical thinking.
- Other adults involved in children and young people’s care and education – such as youth workers, doctors, counsellors and health promotion staff – should have access to relevant professional learning and resources addressing the influence of pornography.
We also contributed a submission to Inquiry into Age Verification for Online Wagering and Online Pornography.
Recommendation 1: In light of data verifying the real-life harms of childhood exposure to pornography the Commonwealth government should recognise the potential benefits of an Age Verification system along with other measures to limit porn exposure to children, including education programs and improved ISP filters.
Recommendation 2: An age verification scheme for access to online pornography, drawing from work done to develop the original United Kingdom model and with added measures that address perceived shortcomings in that model, for example, additions that extend application to social media platforms, should be implemented by the Commonwealth Government.
Recommendation 3: Introduce an age verification system that will restrict children’s access to online pornography (and the global porn industry’s unfettered access to children), acknowledging that our obligation to protect children, and the ensuing protections afforded to children by such a system far outweigh the concerns of those with vested interests in the global porn industry.
Recommendation 4: Introduce an Age Verification system that will restrict children’s access to online pornography (and the global porn industry’s unfettered access to children) and so uphold Australia’s international obligations to protect children from abuse, exploitation and developmental harm, acknowledging that exposure to online pornography amounts to abuse, exploitation and harm.
Children need the adults around them to protect them from the harms of porn. Have you had "the talk" with the the young people in your life?
Read the full article here
New research shows ad industry is trailing behind community expectations
Recently we celebrated a big win with Bauer Media Group's decision to can its People and Picture porn magazines. In a media statement Movement Director Melinda Tankard Reist commended Bauer Media for the move, stating that society has moved on from harmful, sexist portrayals of women.
New research has captured identical sentiment about harmful, sexist advertising: as a society we've moved on. The research paper titled 'Community responses to gender portrayals in advertising' is the collaborative work of RMIT and Women's Health Victoria. It shows that as a society we are cognisant of the harms of sexually objectifying portrayals of women in advertising and that we want better.
Study participants felt that ads portray men and women in ways that are 'out of step with contemporary society': Women are shown as homemakers, mothers or sex objects; men are portrayed in 'more action-oriented roles and associated with leadership and power'.
The following key findings were reported:
Participants felt that the impacts of these portrayals were particularly disempowering for women and contributed to the devaluing of women in society. Many suggested that advertisements that sexualise women or focus on women’s appearance had a negative impact on intimate relationships, body image, self-esteem and mental health. Several expressed concern that these portrayals could contribute to violence against women.
Apart from perceptions about harmful stereotypes in advertising, the research also examined community perceptions of the self-regulated advertising system, finding that 'people want more responsible advertising'. The study authors have urged the advertising industry to learn from others and get with the times:
The industry has acknowledged a need to review its code of ethics. That’s a start. But something else to learn from Britain to address sexist advertising is the value of a co-regulatory system that doesn’t leave the industry to set its own rules...It’s time for the industry to show it’s not living in the past.
Britain recently introduced broader restrictions on harmful sexist stereotypes in advertising. The ban is underpinned by a co-regulated system that enables enforcement.
We've been pointing out the flaws of the self-regulated ad industry for years. Lack of meaningful penalties for advertisers that breach the code, no powers within the system to enforce removal of ads that breach the code and reliance on community members to report suspected non-compliance are just a few. In our own submission to the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics review, we too urged the ad industry to take stock and end their complicity in the sexploitation of women and girls:
We believe the advertising industry in Australia must..take stock of its contribution to a culture that defines the value of women and girls by their sex appeal and that fosters tolerance for the abuse of women and girls. We believe that in the process of reviewing its Code of Ethics, the AANA must consider and implement measures that will uphold human rights as well as the community standard, procure a genuine sense of obligation from all advertisers in all advertising activity at all times and end advertisers’ complicity in the harm of women and girls.
Our comments and recommendations are aligned with research that shows society has changed. We see sexualised and sexually objectifying portrayals of women in advertising for what they are: factors contributing to the real-life harms of women and girls. It's time the ad industry did too.
Read the full research paper here.
Racist, sexist: why porn mags had to goRead more
Images of examination techniques branded 'soft porn'Read more
In yet another display of inconsistent decision-making, the Ad Standards Community Panel has dismissed community complaints against a porn-inspired Honey Birdette ad. ‘Belinda’ features a series of close-up, head-to-chest shots of a woman wearing sheer, blue, mesh fabric. Despite the ad featuring graphic, sexualised imagery, the Community Panel made several unsubstantiated claims to ultimately conclude that the ad treated “sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience” – one that includes kids.
With references to the length of time the images are shown for, the effects “lighting” and “framing” have on the ad, statements about featured body parts being relevant to the product being advertised, and an announcement that “most members of the community would not find the level of nudity in the advertisement confronting or inappropriate in the context of advertising a mesh bodysuit”, the Community Panel gave the green light to this public display of porn-themed imagery to an all-age, non-consenting audience.
Portions of the report state:
The Panel considered whether the advertisement was in breach of Section 2.4 of the Code. Section 2.4 of the Code states: “Advertising or Marketing Communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience”. The Panel considered whether the advertisement contained sex, sexuality or nudity.
The Panel noted the Practice Note for the Code states:
“Images which are not permitted are those which are highly sexually suggestive and inappropriate for the relevant audience. Explicit sexual depictions in marcomms, particularly where the depiction is not relevant to the product or service being advertised, are generally objectionable to the community and will offend Prevailing Community Standards.”
The Panel noted the complainant’s concerns that the advertisement featured highly sexually suggestive images which resemble porn and which were inappropriate to be seen by children. The Panel considered whether the images depicted sex.
The Panel noted the dictionary definition of sex most relevant to this section of the Code of Ethics is ‘sexual intercourse; sexually stimulating or suggestive behaviour.’ (Macquarie Dictionary 2006).
The Panel considered that the depiction of a woman in revealing lingerie is not of itself a depiction of sexual intercourse, sexual stimulation or suggestive behaviour and that the advertisement as a whole did not contain sex.
The Panel considered whether the advertisement treated the issue of sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
The Panel noted the definition of sexuality includes ‘sexual character, the physical fact of being either male or female; The state or fact of being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual; sexual preference or orientation; one’s capacity to experience and express sexual desire; the recognition or emphasising of sexual matters’. The Panel noted that the use of male or female actors in an advertisement is not of itself a depiction of sexuality.
The Panel considered that the style of lingerie being promoted was sexualised and that this did add an element of sexuality to the advertisement. The Panel considered that the depiction of the woman wearing this style of lingerie was relevant to the product being promoted. The Panel considered that although it is reasonable for an advertiser to depict the product being promoted, the depiction should be treated with sensitivity to the relevant audience. The Panel determined that the advertisement did contain sexuality.
The Panel considered the meaning of ‘sensitive’ and noted that the definition of sensitive in this context can be explained as indicating that ‘if you are sensitive to other people's needs, problems, or feelings, you show understanding and awareness of them.’ (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/sensitive)
The Panel considered that the requirement to consider whether sexual suggestion is ‘sensitive to the relevant audience’ is a concept requiring them to consider who the relevant audience is and to have an understanding of how they might react to or feel about the advertisement – the concept of how subtle sexual suggestion is or might be is relevant to the Panel considering how children, and other sections of the community, might consider the advertisement.
The Panel noted that this image appears in store windows and considered that the relevant audience includes retail and service workers, people shopping in the Honey Birdette store and people who are not shopping at Honey Birdette but who are walking past the store, and that this last group would be broad and would include children.
The Panel considered that the flashing nature of the images may give the impression of a peep-show and added to the sexualised feel of the advertisement, however there was no focus on nudity or the woman’s body and the overall impression of the advertisement was not strongly sexualised. The Panel considered that the woman in the advertisement was not posed in a sexualised manner and that the wording on the advertisement was not sexual. The Panel considered that while the flashing images may attract the attention of children and people walking past the store, the images themselves were not overtly sexual. The Panel considered that the advertisement did treat the issue of sexuality with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
The Panel noted the complainants’ concern that the sheer material meant that there is a hyper focus on the woman’s bare breasts that this is a level of nudity which is inappropriate for a public space where children could view the advertisement. The Panel considered whether the advertisement contained nudity and noted that the dictionary definition of nudity includes ‘something nude or naked’, and that nude and naked are defined to be ‘unclothed and includes something ‘without clothing or covering’. The Panel considered that the Code is intended for the Panel to consider the concept of nudity, and that partial nudity is factor when considering whether an advertisement firstly contains nudity and secondly treats that nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience. The Panel noted that the bodysuit worn by the model in the advertisement was sheer and that her nipples are visible through the fabric in the images. The Panel noted that the lingerie worn in the advertisement is available for purchase at Honey Birdette, however considered that products must still be advertised in a manner that is suitable for advertising on the front window of a store that is located in a shopping centre.
The Panel considered the Practice Note for the Code which provides:
“Full frontal nudity and explicit pornographic language is not permitted. Images of genitalia are not acceptable. Images of nipples may be acceptable in advertisements for plastic surgery or art exhibits for example.”
The Panel considered that in the first, second, third, fourth and fifth images the woman’s breasts and nipples can be seen through the sheer fabric of her lingerie, however considered that the woman’s nipples appeared to have been pixelated.
The Panel considered that the depiction of women’s nipples does not in itself amount to an unacceptable level of nudity. The Panel noted that it had previously determined that advertisements which featured female nipples in a way which is discreet and not the focus of the advertisement (0543/18, 0134/19, 0157/19, 0174/19), when advertising to a restricted audience (0097/17, 0086/15, 0145/17) or when advertising a non-sexualised product (0290/14, 0103/12, 0276/10) and therefore did treat the issue of nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
The Panel considered that a large sector of the community are uncomfortable with images of mostly naked female breasts however the Panel considered that the brief display of the woman’s nipples were not the focus of the advertisement and were partially obscured by pixilation and were not the focus of the advertisement. The Panel considered that most members of the community would not find the level of nudity in the advertisement confronting or inappropriate in the context of advertising a mesh bodysuit.
The Panel determined the advertisement did treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience and did not breach Section 2.4 of the Code.
Finding that the advertisement did not breach any other section of the Code, the Panel dismissed the complaint.
What do you think? Does this recent Community Panel decision reflect your community’s standards? Tell us in the comments below.
Read the full Case Report here.