People power forces Wicked Campers to withdraw misogynistic marketing
Wicked Campers withdraws sexist slogans from vans after 110,000-strong change.org petition; petition starter Paula Orbea says it’s a “people powered win against sexism”
The campervan company at the centre of a people-powered revolt over sexist van slogans has today issued an apology and committed to reviewing and removing sexist or misogynistic marketing from all vans in the next six months.
Paula Orbea, the Sydney school teacher who started the 110,000-strong change.org petition against Wicked Campers says it’s a stunning people-power victory against sexism, with the result coming just four days after starting the petition.
In an email from Wicked Campers received by Paula, she says they’ve offered a personal apology, have now removed the sexist slogan Paula’s daughter saw, committed to reviewing and removing insensitive slogans from all vans in the next six months. The statement reads: “Wicked Campers Owner, John Webb wishes to acknowledge the prevailing community opinion by REMOVING the slogan in question and making a commitment over the coming six months to changing slogans of an insensitive nature.”
Wicked Campers have been at the centre of numerous ad watchdog complaints and social media backlashes in the past, and Paula says that it was the change.org petition which gathered more than 110,000 sigantures that made the difference.
“I’m overjoyed at the result, and commend Wicked Campers for eventually listening to consumers that their misogynistic slogans weren’t acceptable.”
“This was a people power win. The change.org petition worked just as it intended, with more than 110,000 people signing, it was an overwhelming show of community support.”
“The kind of sexism and misogyny on those Wicked Campers vans isn’t trivial – it’s degrading to women, harmful for our children to consume, and condones a rape culture that sees one-in-three Australian women sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.
“I’m pleased my daughter said something, and that we stood up against it. It’s important that we call out sexism wherever it exists – and my change.org petition enabled me to actually make a difference and win change.”
Paula is urging those offended by the vans to continue to call out examples of misogynistic and offending vans by contacting the company and posting on social media about them – and she will be monitoring the company’s progress in removing offending slogans.
Karen Skinner, Australian Director of change.org says it’s an example of the growing success womens activism is having through online petitions.
“More than ever before, women are calling out everyday sexism and fighting back through social media and change.org petitions.”
“Online tools are giving women the ability to join together and achieve change incredibly quickly, in stark contrast to the individual complaints processes.”
“Women’s rights issues are among the most popular on change.org, and women make up more than 60% of our most active users. There’s a growing community going online and winning on these once-ignored issues.”
Unanimous vote for Greens anti-Wicked Campers motion in Senate
The Senate has unanimously passed a Greens’ motion condemning the sexist, misogynistic and racist slogans that Wicked Campers have on their hire vans.
“The Senate is sending a strong message that promoting violence against women is completely unacceptable in Australian society,” Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens spokesperson for women, said.
“I’m pleased to hear that Wicked Campers have said they will remove the specific slogan that sparked on online petition signed by more than 120 000 people, and have committed to remove more of what they describe as “insensitive” slogans in coming months.
“I wholeheartedly congratulate and thank Paula Orbea, who started the petition after her 11-year-old daughter read the slogan which incited sexual violence against women and girls.
“Paula has shown that by calling out sexism and misogyny, we can put a stop to it, and change the culture that normalises and condones it.
“These sexist slogans promote violence against women, which is sadly a massive problem in Australia.
“One in every three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced violence and one in every five have experienced sexual violence.
“Most often women know their attacker, with one Australian woman a week killed by her partner or ex-partner.
“Violence against women is certainly no laughing matter – it is a national emergency,” Senator Waters said.
Wicked assigns women and girls to a place of inferiority: Dr Helen Pringle
…Wicked Campers is a serial offender at the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which has formally considered dozens of complaints against the company since 2008. What is most striking over that time is that the ASB has completely failed to counter the campaign of derision and intimidation against Australian girls and women by the company. In fact, in the last two years, Wicked Campers has simply not responded in any way to complaints lodged with the ASB, or to determinations against its conduct by the Bureau. And the Bureau is powerless in the face of the company’s contempt for it….
One of the most egregious violations by the company did not even become the subject of a complaint to the ASB. During the 2012 Queensland state election campaign, a company campervan was painted with a garish cartoon of a naked middle-aged woman, with her legs spread wide apart so as to expose her whole body to the world, and her genitals obscured by two squares, marked as 1 (her vagina) and 2 (her anus). The caption to the cartoon shouted out to its audience, “Tick the Right Box!”. The cartoon represented Anna Bligh, then Queensland premier, who had earlier criticised the company’s use of a racist slogan on a van (“Save a Whale – Harpoon a Jap!”)…
In his book The Harm in Hate Speech, Jeremy Waldron argues that a flourishing and fair society rests on the equal standing and treatment of its members – and on the recognition and assurance of that equality in society’s “signage”. The Wicked camper vans assign girls and women to a place of inferiority and frustrate the assurance of equality to which we are entitled, in public places just as in workplaces. Read full article
Thousands support Sydney mother’s petition against misogynistic Wicked Campers.
Wicked Campers are known for their campervans emblazoned with sexist and demeaning slogans.We’ve written about them before.
One of our supporters, blogger and activist Paula Orbea, decided she had had enough after her young daughter was exposed to a certain van while out with her grandparents. She wrote on her blog:
“A few days ago, I went to pick up my 11 and 7 year old daughters from a holiday stint with my parents. As we greeted each other with hugs, my 11 year old did not hesitate in telling me, with great concern, that she saw something terrible when she was in the car with my dad – a van that said all girls were sluts who want to try it just once.
“So it’s official – something I personally called out has encroached and touched my family directly.”
Paula and her daughter contacted the Advertising Standards Bureau where her young daughter made an official complaint. She wrote, “I am a little girl and I am not a slut.”
Paula recounted her frustration as she discovered a long list of complaints against Wicked Campers for similarly misogynistic and demeaning slogans and imagery. Many complaints against Wicked Campers had been upheld, but Australia’s system of industry self regulation means there is no enforcement of the ASB’s ruling, and Wicked Campers have no obligation to remove the advertising. As such, Wicked Campers are free to disregard the ASB’s ruling and do whatever they want- there are no penalties, fines or legislation in place that would prevent Wicked Campers and other advertisers from using misogyny, racism or homophobia to sell their products.
We have raised this issue before, in submissions to inquiries for advertising and outdoor advertising, calling for a complete overhaul of the current system. We have called for regulation by an independent body rather than the industry itself, as well as pre-vetting of advertisements and substantial penalties for those who continually breach standards and codes, like Wicked Campers.
Paula decided it was time to take action, so she created a petition on change.org calling on Wicked Campers to remove misogynistic and degrading slogans and imagery. Her call to action resonated with many people, with thousands signing the petition and condemning Wicked Campers for their sexist and hateful slogans. Sign Paula’s petition here.
In just two days, Paula’s campaign has sparked national media coverage. Wicked Campers has removed the option to post on their Facebook wall after being inundated with complaints from people now empowered to speak out. This is a great lesson to Wicked Campers and other media and advertisers, that demeaning women to promote products is no longer acceptable and will hurt their business. As such, Paula’s campaign is already a success, and we are thrilled to see people like Paula speaking out.
As author and activist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Last month Channel 7’s Morning Show asked me to comment on the Tool Shop’s Queensland billboard depicting three women with tools and the wording ‘Imagine All 3 at once? We can…’. The billboard was clearly intended to treat the women in a sexual way by encouraging fantasies about group sex with them. It also contributed to objectifying women who work in these trades. Here’s what I said:
We win: ASB upholds complaints
In unexpected good news, the Advertising Standards Board has upheld complaints against the Tool Shop.
The Advertising Standards Bureau has upheld a series of complaints made against an outdoor campaign that it depicts women as sex objects.
The campaign, for The Tool Shop, shows three women tradies next the line ‘Imagine all 3 at once? We can…’
The advertiser objected to the ruling, stating:”The women are in no way dressed “provocatively” nor is the tag line referring to anything sexual. We also struggle to comprehend how this billboard in any way, shape or form could ‘suggest that women are sexual objects’.”
The ASB considered that the text was more likely to be read as a reference to having sex with all three women at once, rather than being able to purchase all three tools in one place.
Overall, the ad clearly presented the women as sexual objects to be purchased or used and did so in a manner that was demeaning to women, the ASB ruled.
The Advertising Standards Board has upheld complaints against Calvin Klein for billboards suggestive of sexual violence against a woman. The Board received 50 complaints against the ad.
I first mentioned the billboards in ‘Sexism: alive and well in Australia’, published on ABC The Drum Unleashed September 29. Last week I ran a guest post by sexual assault counsellor Alison Grundy who asked why Calvin Klein thought it acceptable to use sexual violence as a marketing tool.
Collective Shout led the charge against the ads. The issue was then picked up in the Herald Sun today. This afternoon Collective Shout supporter Patrice Daly – who first alerted us to the billboard she’d seen in Kings Cross – received the ruling of the Advertising Standards Board, upholding the complaints. Nine MSN reported the decision here. The Herald Sun updated its original piece here.
This is a significant ruling. I have reprinted it in full (it doesn’t appear to be on the ASB’s site yet). I love the ending.
One more thing: The boycott against Calvin Klein should continue. The company was made to act in this case and they are not exactly known as an objectification-free zone when it comes to their advertising.
Objectification whatever the size: MTR on Online Opinion
On the 7pm ABC News Sunday, June 27, a report on the Federal Government’s new voluntary body image code of conduct was illustrated by the story of size 14 model Laura Wells. Laura was proud of her body and very confident, even though she didn’t conform to the typical model body type.
That is a good thing of course. It’s positive to have women in the industry who challenge the thin ideal.
But the argument fell apart for me, because, as the ABC report informed us, Laura was so confident that she even took her clothes off for modeling shoots. And then we saw some footage of her squeezing her breasts together for the camera. She was naked. Read the complete article here.
As readers know, I was a guest on the Gruen Sessions, broadcast online on the ABC website last Wednesday. I blogged on it here. Just came across this blog, ‘Head, Heart, Hands’ commenting on the show. I particularly liked Sheryl’s insightful observation below and thought you might be interested in what she says as well.
What I found really interesting was the ability of the advertising executives to hold a position of defensive innocence in tension with their
1. agreement that advertising images are connected with negative mental and physical health outcomes for young women.
2. acknowledgement that when the advertising industry uses real women in ads it’s only as a strategy to sell more product, not because it’s the right thing to do.
3. acknowledgement that advertising taps into consumers’ aspirations and desires, including aspiring to very narrowly defined “good looks”, because aspiration creates sales.
4. agreement that advertising has a responsibility to “get it right” and not objectify women when solving their client’s brief.
5. agreement that there should be transparency about the use of digital technology to enhance images.
6. agreement that there should be stricter standards on outdoor advertising because “you can’t get away from it”.
7. acknowedgement that only 4% of women in our society are like the women used in advertisements.
UK Bans Diesel ads – but not because of offense to women
The Revolution of Real Women has criticised the UK’s advertising watchdog for banning the Diesel ‘Be Stupid’ ads – for the wrong reasons.
The ads were banned not because they were objectifying and offensive to women, but because they might encourage copy-cat behaviour (cos like a woman in a bikini is going to take a photo of her genitals with a lion lurking in the background).
As RORW writes: “…this is an ad campaign that BLATANTLY preaches that appearances, promiscuity and sexiness is far more important than WHO we are and what we accomplish”.
Late last year in this blog, I gave my assessment of the National Strategy on Body Image proposed by an advisory group that was appointed by the federal government. Kate Ellis, the Minister for Youth, has just released the government’s body image policy in response to the proposal. So, how has the policy shaped up?
Last night the on-line version of the ABC’s Gruen Transfer, known as The Gruen Sessions was broadcast on the program’s site. The topic was the depiction of women in advertising. I was a guest on the panel with media analyst Jane Caro, advertising executives Russell Howcroft and Todd Sampson and host Wil Anderson.
• That women continue to be portrayed in objectified, sexualised ways in advertising – and that it’s getting worse
• That women are primarily depicted in normative ways as thin, white, anglo-saxon and idle
• That images which would be considered sexual harassment if posted in a workplace are considered perfectly acceptable if posted on giant billboards in the public domain
• That the regular dismissal of complaints suggests that sexist advertising is acceptable
• That children and young people continue to receive the message that being thin, hot and sexy is the way to happiness and success
• That the Advertising Standards Board is limited in effectiveness, and therefore acts in the interests of the industry, because of a weak code of ethics, voluntary advertiser participation, no pre-vetting of material, no power to withdraw ads and no penalties for offending advertisers
• That there needed to be greater industry accountability and responsibility
• That women’s equality should be placed higher than commercial interests
It is a reality not widely enough acknowledged that the more complaints about sexist advertising are dismissed, the more normalised and entrenched such advertising becomes.
As Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a contributor to Getting Real: Challenging the sexualisation of girls and author of Sex in Public: Women and Outdoor Advertising writes in her book:
Whether inadvertently or not, the ASB’s routine dismissal of complaints does mould community standards. The increasing number of sexist advertisements shown, compounded with the small number ever withdrawn, works to give the impression that sexist advertising is tolerable.
Another problem is that a lot of people just do not know where to complain to. As Dr Rosewarne told the Senate committee inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment. (See Melbourne hearing transcripts )
If the complaints process is not made more obvious, the consequence is that community silence is read as tolerance and as being in line with ‘community standards’, thus facilitating sexist advertisements, and that remains the status quo.
Of course, the industry likes things exactly the way they are. As the Australia Institute says:
… advertisers also have an interest in avoiding government scrutiny that may lead to stronger regulation of advertising in the interests of the general public…Self-regulation is a strategy that enables the industry to avoid such scrutiny.
There is also an attitude of contempt towards those making complaints, as John Brown a former member of the Advertising Standards Board, demonstrates. As told to the Senate inquiry, Brown was quoted, in one of the Advertising Standard’s Boards own publications, as saying:
I’m still amused after all these years at the sometimes petty approach of some citizens to the very mild attacks on their sensibility in certain ads. But keep your letters coming. This is democracy in action and also very amusing.
Lynx “Spray more, get more”: the Unilever view of women
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the Lynx ads, which feature demeaning representations of women. Lynx is owned by Unilever, which also owns Dove. You would know about Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign which purports to promote respect and recognition of women’s real value. Dove also funds programs in schools to help educate regarding body image issues. How you do that while also presenting women as out-of-control sex maniacs who attack any man who has sprayed himself with Lynx, I don’t know. Dove also has skin whitening creams for dark skinned women suggesting real beauty only comes in white skin. As well, Unilever markets slimfast products for rapid weight loss, suggesting real beauty only comes in size skinny. Had enough of real women already have we?
The ASB likes to claim it is attuned with community standards and seems to base this on the fact that it upheld complaints about the two most offensive ads. The data in table 4 shows that in a large proportion of the ads about which complaints were dismissed (6 of 11) they were found objectionable by one in three, or more, respondents.
Examining the stats by gender, in the next table, the picture gets even worse. For those ads, on average nearly half of females find them unacceptable (46% – for some ads it is over 50%).
So, according to the ASB, it is in line with community perceptions to offend almost half of women.
As Elizabeth Handsley, Professor of Law at Flinders University and Vice President of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, wrote in an email to me yesterday:
There is a pretty strong argument that being out of step with the standards of nearly half of women is not good enough.
The question always has to be: what is the community benefit that justifies offending this many people?
The self-regulatory system has been inadequate to the task of dealing with increasingly pornified imagery in the public spaces. The continual dismissal of most complaints and the growing display of sexualised imagery serves to normalise and mainstream the objectification of women. Perhaps the whole thing should be handed over to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner rather than handled in-house by an industry which shows us everyday what it really thinks of women.
Don’t hold your breath for advertising messages that tell you you’re just fine the way you are.
At the start of the week I posted my thoughts about the Federal Government’s new voluntary body image code of conduct. I said that it was basically OK as far as it went, but that it had ignored a significant contributor to body image dissatisfaction, the objectification of women and sexualisation of girls. The advertising, fashion and beauty industries weren’t being called upon to cease this practice, which is demonstrably harmful to them. You can have a range of body shapes, sizes and ethnicities represented, but they can still be posed and styled in sexually objectifying ways. Objectification in a size 14 is still objectification.
Thinking about the issue further, while in so many ways the code doesn’t go far enough, in one way it demonstrates remarkable naivete in regard to the beauty industry and the way it advertises itself. A section of the code contains criteria for compliance with the “realistic and natural images of people”. As if the beauty industry is going to do that? It doesn’t want to use real and natural women who might have moles, freckles, blotchy skin, pimples, dry hair and bodies which don’t conform to the thin ideal. (And no one is fooled by Dove anymore, given airbrushing in the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, its skin whitening products for dark-skinned women and the company’s latest casting calls for women with ‘beautiful hair and skin’, ‘nice bodies’ and who are ‘not too curvy’).
The Code also “encourages organisations to ensure the messages in advertising do not contradict the positive body image messages that may be presented in editorial content.” You have got to be joking. The whole aim of beauty advertising is to make women feel bad about themselves, inadequate and in need of improvement. Making women feel good will defeat the whole purpose of what they do. Don’t expect any upbeat messages about how you are fine the way you are anytime soon.
I would love to be proven wrong, of course.
Zero percent of beauty industry advertising would receive the body image tick of approval
Erica Bartle over at Girl With A Satchel has written a really good post on this aspect of the code. In it she argues, quite rightly, that zero percent of beauty industry advertising would receive the body image tick of approval by conforming to the code in regard to ‘realistic and natural’ depictions and ‘fair placement’ which calls on advertising to be consistent with positive body image messages in the editorials and feature sections of magazines. You can read her views here.
Karen Brooks, author of ‘Consuming Innocence: Popular Culture and Our Children‘, has also weighted into the discussion, with a piece worth reading in the Courier Mail today. In it she writes:
Not only am I concerned that we continue to identify very real social and psychological problems and then provide unrealistic and unattainable solutions (a tick? voluntary?), but we also go about the process the wrong way.
Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education, who I’ve run here before, has blogged on Channel 10 and its allegedly PG-rated show ‘So you think you can dance’. It brought to mind a clip I saw last week of Pamela Anderson on ‘Dancing With the Stars’. The male judge , totally beside himself, shouted: “All I could think about was sex, sex and more sex!” I don’t recall him saying anything about her dancing ability. Maybe that’s irrelevant. Maybe she’ll win.
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