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
Shoppers continue to #boycottwestfield over their lack of action regarding banned Honey Birdette posters
Guest blog post from "one angry mum"
Parenting is hard at the best of times. You want to make the right decisions for your kids so that they grow up to be well rounded, compassionate, kind human beings. You hope that you can instil in them a sense of justice, that they would change the world and make it a better place. With so many horrific stats around male violence against women in this country I see it as my duty to raise my son to respect women. To see them as fully human, rather than sexualised, objectified things. The research on this is clear on the links between objectification and violence against women.
That is why I am intentional about what we watch, what we listen to, the way I speak about others. Because although he is young, he is listening, he is watching, and he is learning. The foundation is being set on who he will be and how he behaves in the future. A simple trip to Westfield to get groceries shouldn't threaten that.
On July 20 2018 as we walked through the centre my son sat proudly in the trolley, eyes open wide at all the lights and shiny, fun things around him. And then we passed it....a huge blown up poster in the front window of Honey Birdette. This poster was far beyond the type of imagery you should expect to see in a public place frequented by children. They way the model was styled and posed was hyper-sexualised. The particular garment she was wearing was transparent. Why should my toddler be exposed to that when I'm walking through a Westfield to get groceries?
So I went home and typed up a complaint to Ad Standards. I was certain this ad could not be in line with their code of ethics. I received an email from them six days later (on the July 26) that the panel were going to consider my complaint.
On Aug 24 I finally heard back from Ad Standards. Five whole weeks after I lodged my complaint. I was pleased to read in their correspondence that that had in fact upheld my complaint.
The Panel noted that the bra the woman was wearing was sheer and considered that there was a strong suggestion that her nipple was visible. The Panel noted that the design and cut of the lingerie featured in the advertisement left a large portion of her breasts visible and that this imagery did contain a high level of nudity.
The Panel considered that the level of nudity was at the higher end of the scale and as such the image included on a poster that is visible to members of the community standing outside the business was not appropriate for the relevant broad audience which would likely include children.
The Panel determined the advertisement did not treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience and did breach Section 2.4 of the Code. Finding that the advertisement breached Section 2.4 of the Code, the Panel upheld the complaints.Read more
The Ad Standards panel have again determined that Honey Birdette's latest poster is in breach of the advertising code of ethics. The posters have been hanging in major shopping centres around the country in direct view of families and children.
Mumbrella reported that this is the 13th ad that has been banned for Honey Birdette out of 28 rulings meaning nearly half of the ads have breached the code of ethics.
“At a time where sexual assault is increasing in the news, this legitimisation of using woman’s naked bodies to sell underwear is inappropriate. Other manufacturers sell underwear/ lingerie and do not portray woman in this way nor do it in full view of young boys and girls. This is not about an objection to women.
“It is the objection to the sexual objectification of women – it is about opposition to sexism, to corporates who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and have the audacity to claim they are empowering women in the process,” one the complaints continued.Read more
Kenneth Thor, the father behind the petition calling for an end to porn-style Honey Birdette advertisements in Westfield shopping centres, is continuing to keep up the pressure on Scentre Group.
In a letter to the Chief Operating Officer, Kenneth outlined some of the issues with Honey Birdette’s consistent porn-inspired advertising.
I just wanted to state the obvious, that bondage, dominance, submissive, sado-masochistic (BDSM) depiction of women in your shopping centres should never be “normal”.
I would have thought that in this day and age when violence against women and sexualisation of young children is such a huge concern in society, that a non-tone-deaf organisation like the Scentre Group would find this type of advertising quite tasteless if not offensive?
As previously communicated, I’m sure you’ve had discussions with Honey Birdette, but forgive me for wondering whether they have been effective.
The ASB have ruled that the two previous Honey Birdette ads (Office Party and Santa Kids) were “degrading and exploitive”, but they of course had weeks of exposure before being taken down. Their tally is now 12 case reports being upheld. When will someone figure out that this company has no intention of playing by the rules and is eroding our confidence in the ASB and Westfield?
What are you going to do about this current demeaning Honey Birdette ads and help prevent further offensive ads in the future? It is not difficult to see what is wrong with this situation.
Join over 61,000 people and sign Kenneth’s petition.
We love to see our supporters engaging in our campaigns and challenging those who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Over the past few weeks of our campaign against Honey Birdette, we’ve seen some great actions taken by supporters. Here are some of our favourites:
As seen in Westfield shopping centres around the country:
It’s that time of year again. Every year in the lead up to Christmas, we release our annual blacklist of corporate offenders who have objectified women and sexualised girls throughout the year.
You can send a message about the importance of corporate social responsibility by ‘voting with your wallet’ and making ethical purchasing choices. Give these stores a miss this holiday season.
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” –Anna Lapse
Take action today, Thursday 30th November.
Last week we put out a call to action, encouraging supporters to contact the Scentre Group and Westfield leadership about Honey Birdette’s sexually exploitative advertising. We had a great response from supporters, many of whom shared their actions with us on our Facebook page.
Westfield has responded to a few of our supporters, claiming to have no authority over the advertising their tenants display. Many others who called and emailed have had no response whatsoever.
Westfield think that we will get bored and give up. But we’re not backing down. We will continue to put the pressure on until they take meaningful action.
A wealth of research shows that regular exposure to sexually objectifying portrayals of women are directly associated with a greater support of sexist beliefs and greater tolerance of violence against women, leading both men and women to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity. Essentially, when women are routinely objectified or reduced to things, violence against them may be more easily justified.
Given a growing awareness of the scourge of domestic violence in Australia, with an average of two women being murdered by male partners each week, Honey Birdette’s ongoing and defiant promotion of the objectification and degradation of women is staggering.
Consumers call on Westfield to exercise corporate social responsibility in National Day of Action.
It’s been three weeks since Collective Shout supporter Kenneth Thor called on Westfield stores to stop sex shop Honey Birdette from using porn-themed advertising in shopping centres around the country. Almost 60, 000 signatures later Scentre Group, the owners of Australian and New Zealand Westfield centres, have failed to take meaningful action, claiming they have no authority over what advertising their tenants use.
On Friday the 24th of November, Collective Shout put out a call to action, encouraging supporters to phone the Scentre Group and email Westfield AU CEO Peter Allen or the chairperson Brian Schwartz. Dozens of Collective Shout supporters shared their emails on our Facebook page:
“I understand Honey Birdette has been remarkably persistent in displaying pornographic inspired advertising in their shops which is freely seen by customers walking past and also by children…This kind of pornographic inspired advertising impacts the developing and impressionable minds of children walking past. Additionally it encourages male and female customers to believe that women are merely sex objects. This is not acceptable.
“Westfield has a duty of care to its customers, who include women, children and men, to not display highly sexualised and sexist advertising that constitutes both sexual harassment and discrimination. The frequent depiction of women as merely sexy playthings for men’s use and entertainment has real life impacts on women and girls. Westfield has an opportunity to be a leader, a champion of gender equality.”
“It’s atrocious and patronising to claim that Westfield and the Scentre group…have no power to pressure Honey Birdette to remove these images. I’m sure a store could not have images that included profanities, or violent imagery in their advertising.”
“Having done the bookkeeping for a shop in Westfield this is a total lie. They can control everything down to the light bulbs they prefer you use, trading hours, refurbishments, etc.”
Current and former employees of Honey Birdette continue to fight back against the company over poor work conditions and sexual harassment.
*Update* Calvin Klein remove sexualised advertisement
Thanks for your patience with this matter. We hope you can understand our need to balance both the rights of the retailer with the needs of the community.
We shared these concerns with Calvin Klein, and are pleased to report that they have replaced that particular artwork with alternate imagery overnight.
We do value community feedback and we're pleased to have been able to work with the retailer to address these concerns.
This picture outside a Calvin Klein store in a Westfield Shopping Centre was recently brought to our attention.Read more