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
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.
Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution is a documentary about coming of age in today’s young adult hookup culture. Following the journey of college students on Spring Break, the film provides shocking insight into attitudes and behaviors regarding sex, the normalization of sexual violation, and the struggle against conceptions of gender and sexuality shaped by the media.
The new documentary reveals a “culture of sexual violation” where women are viewed as sexual conquests to be discarded, and men display an entitlement to women and their bodies.
A range of experts, including Caroline Heldman, Gail Dines, Robert Jensen and Sut Jhally, discuss the role of media and popular culture in shaping attitudes and behaviours:
“Young people in our culture learn what it means to be man, what it means to be a woman, how they’re supposed to relate to each other, how they’re supposed to have sex from popular culture, whether its social media, film, television, pornography, their peers. And you see this theme of non-intimate sex, you know, throughout every type of popular culture that’s out there, which is a different type of sex from the sex we used to see,” says Caroline Heldman.
The routine sexual objectification of women in media, advertising and popular culture leads to the view of women as being defined by their sexual appeal and availability. Sut Jhally, founder and executive director of Media Education Foundation notes:
“Any part of popular culture in one sense tells the same story about female sexuality, which is female sexuality is a key component of what it means to be female.”
A still image from the film.
The film also attempts to explain young women’s participation in hook-up culture. Author and founder of Culture Reframed, Gail Dines said:
“Let’s take a young girl and think about what does it mean that, you know, you’re on the cusp of puberty, you’re trying to figure out what it means to be female. And you’re looking around the culture and what’s coming at you is Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus... Today, the culture is saying if you behave in a certain way, act a certain way, dress a certain way, then you are an empowered young woman.”
Caroline Heldman argued that young women may believe being treated as a sexual object is “empowering” because it makes them feel wanted and desired.
“But the idea that our bodies are our value means that we are forever dependent on men to validate us, we’re dependent upon an outside source to say that we are important, to say that we are valuable...What’s the ultimate way to get validation? It’s to be wanted sexually.”
The film showcases the real-life impacts of the pornification of culture and the sexual objectification of women. The view of women as things existing for men’s use and enjoyment was striking, with young men speaking openly about their tactics to hook up with women, and young women describing frequent and normalised sexual harassment and sexual assault from men who felt “entitled”. Is this really progress? Is it empowerment?
Watch Liberated on Netflix.
Collective Shout’s primary mission is campaigning against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls. While we have spoken out against the objectification of men on occasion, the bulk of our time and efforts are focused on women and girls. Why?
While both men and women can be sexualised, it is primarily women who are being objectified, and women who are far more likely to be negatively impacted by objectification.
Women are routinely sexualised and objectified in mainstream popular culture. Hypersexualised representations of women in media and advertising are everywhere. Women are positioned as passive, decorative objects, reduced to a collection of sexualised body parts, defined by their physical attractiveness and sexual availability, and even depicted as (still glamorous) victims of violence. Women’s sexualised bodies are used to sell everything from beer to burgers to organ donation.
Research out of the University of Southern Carolina found that the hypersexualisation of men in films has increased substantially in under a decade.
The Economist reported:
Of the 100 top-grossing films at the US box-office in 2007, 4.6% of male characters were seen dressed in “sexualised attire” and 6.6% were shown “with some nudity”. In 2014 those figures stood at 8.0% and 9.1%. 2013 marked the highest point of this trend with 9.7% of male characters shot in sexually alluring clothing, and 11.7% taking some—or all—of their kit off on film.
However, women in film fared much worse:
In 2014, 27.9% of female characters wore ‘sexy’ clothing and 26.4% exposed their chests, legs, or other body parts on camera: they are roughly three times more likely to be objectified on screen than men. Considering, too, that women make up less than a third of all speaking characters and less than a quarter of leading roles, the percentages are all the more alarming. Women are less visible in films, and those that are present are exponentially more likely to be featured in sexualised terms.
While both men and women can be objectified, the outcome is not necessarily the same.
We live in a culture in which the value of women and girls is determined in large part by their physical beauty and sexual appeal, to the exclusion of their intellect, abilities and contributions to the world. This treatment does not extend to men.
When men are sexualised in media and advertising, they are not typically demeaned, portrayed as decorative objects or posed as vulnerable and submissive in the ways that women are. Men are also rarely dismembered and presented as a collection of sexualised or individual body parts. Instead, men are depicted as hyper-masculine and strong. The sexualising and objectifying treatment of men may serve to enhance their power and status rather than to reduce it.
Activist and filmmaker Jean Kilbourne has spent decades studying the image of women in advertising. In her documentary Killing Us Softly 4, she responds to the suggestion that men are now being objectified in the way women traditionally have been:
Reporters called me up from all around the country and said, “Look! They’re doing the same thing to men they’ve always done to women.” Well, not quite.
They’d be doing the same thing to men they’ve always done to women if there were copy with this ad that went like this:
‘Your penis might be too small, too droopy, too limp, too lop-sided, too narrow, too fat, too pale, too pointy, too blunt, or just two inches. But at least you can have a great pair of jeans!’
It would never happen and nor should it, and believe me, this is not the kind of equality I’m fighting for. I don’t want them to do this to men any more than to women, but I think we can learn something from these two ads, one of which did happen and one of which never would.”
We do not support ‘equal opportunity’ objectification. No person should be reduced to the status of object, or treated as a thing for another person’s use.
A Melbourne based shoe designer has attracted complaints over a sexually objectifying image on their Facebook page depicting a series of semi-naked, headless women wearing their shoes.
Facebook users weighed in on Preston Zly Design’s photo, with a series of witty and insightful comments:
“But why does the model have to take her pants off to sell shoes?”
“Hi, can you please clarify, will I be able to wear these shoes if I have a head attached to my body? Also I put clothes on prior to my shoes, will these shoes still work with my dressing style?”
“Can we expect similar ads for men’s footwear with headless men missing their clothing also, or is it just sexual exploitation of women that sells shoes?”
“I don’t need nudes to sell me shoes.”
“Women are not inanimate objects and selling to us by exploiting us isn’t edgy.”
“Oh look, headless bodies of young, thin, conventionally attractive white women being used to sell a product. How artistic! So revolutionary and challenging! It’s almost like this outdated and sexist practice hasn’t gone on for decades!”
Designer Johanna Preston responded,
“We are not clothing designers- it’s all about the shoes here” – as if featuring clothed female models is a skill limited to clothing designers.
“The images aren’t exploitative- but if you choose to think they are that’s your prerogative.
“I understand that the use of the female body offends you but we are proud of our work and stand behind our beautiful shoot.”
But the use of women’s bodies as props, the depiction of women without faces, the treatment of women as interchangeable and the use of women’s near naked bodies to sell a product is objectification- whether it is acknowledged or not, whether it offends or not.
There is a wealth of research on the harms of objectifying women- decades of it- finding that this sexist treatment leads both men and women to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity. In short, treating women like things is bad for women.
It’s hard to understand how in 2018, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and with a growing awareness of the scourge of men’s violence against women, companies can continue to exploit women’s bodies to sell a product.
During the morning of August 3, Channel 7's ‘Morning Show’ host Kylie Gillies gifted her co-host Lary Emdur with two celebrity nudes.
During a four-minute spiel about “How Airtasker can help you say thank you” to the people in your life, Kylie Gillies decided against Airtasker ambassador Jules Sebastian’s suggestion of “food and coffee”.Read more
Soft drink brand Sparkling OH have attracted complaints for their ads featuring pieces of fruit arranged to resemble women’s breasts, complete with erect nipples. The image is accompanied by text referencing the deliberately suggestive nature of the image, “not as guilty as it looks”.