The objectification of women is so unremarkable in advertising and popular culture that it’s sometimes hard to envisage what an alternative might look like. Is it possible to advertise lingerie or swimwear without objectifying women, we are asked? Is objectification in the amount of flesh revealed, or is it more than that? Where is the line between women being merely attractive and objectified?
First, let’s define what objectification is. Dr Caroline Heldman has a great test to identify sexual objectification- what she calls the CHIPS test.
1) Commodity: Does the image show a sexualised person as a commodity, for example, as something that can be bought and sold?
2) Harmed: Does the image show a sexualised person being harmed, for example, being violated or unable to give consent?
3) Interchangeable: Does the image show a sexualised person as interchangeable, for example, a collection of similar bodies?
4) Parts: Does the image show a sexualised person as body parts, for example, a human reduced to breasts or buttocks?
5) Stand-In: Does the image present a sexualised person as a stand-in for an object, for example, a human body used as a chair or a table?
Jennifer Moss also wrote about the deliberate construction of women’s poses in advertising, assigning them into categories:
She’s looking over her shoulder or her facial expression is frightened. She has her hands up in protective or shielding position. She’s pulling away from a man. She’s dead. Any image depicting the woman as victim.
B.) POSITIONED FOR SEX/UNDRESSED
She is set up for sex: lying supine or close to it. Her legs are spread. She’s on a bed. She’s in a state of undress in which she wouldn’t (realistically) be allowed in public. Something is in her mouth.
Head angled. Eyes looking away, down. The classic “hunch” pose of the upper torso. Body is not square to the camera. Chin is down. Body language depicting submission, weakness.
D.) OBJECTIFIED/NON-HUMAN/ONE OF MANY
No face or her face is obscured. A group of women all dressed and made up the same. No individuality. A product.
It doesn’t have to be like this- there is another way.
In researching for this blog post, I spent a fair amount of time looking for advertising that did not sexualise or objectify women. Unfortunately, this was a rather fruitless endeavor! I found two examples. One was ad agency, Badger and Winters. (Scroll up to the very top to see their work for lingerie company Naja, and more examples here.)
Badger and Winters
After advertising executive Madonna Badger tragically lost her three daughters and her parents in a fire on Christmas Day in 2012, she made the decision to no longer objectify women in her advertising.
Badger uses the following four criteria to determine if an ad objectifies women:
Prop: Does the woman have a choice or voice in this situation?
Part: Is she reduced to just a sexually provocative body part?
Plastic: Is the image manipulated to the extent that the look is not humanly achievable?
What if: Would you be comfortable to see your sister, best friend or yourself in this image?
You can see Badger and Winters work for lingerie company Naja. This ad campaign shows how it is entirely possible to sell lingerie without objectifying women or replicating porn-inspired scenarios.
Well Made Clothes
The second example is Well Made Clothes- an online marketplace selling clothing from the ‘world’s best’ fashion labels. All stock featured on the website must meet the criteria for one of their values. Their advertising presents women as whole people rather than faceless, objectified and interchangeable.
Handy hints for advertisers
In many ads, women are not portrayed as whole people. They are reduced to a series of sexualized body parts (or even just one), or their identity is based on their sexuality or sexual availability. Objectification occurs when a person is reduced to object status, or becomes a thing, rather than fully human. While this can happen to women or men, this objectification is much more frequently done to women.
Women are often depicted as idle, merely posing to be looked at. There are various examples of advertising for women’s active wear that do just this. Advertisers could have a powerful impact by showing women running, lifting and actually engaging in activity, rather than merely posing- see an example from Cotton On Body:
Audiences are diverse, and as such advertising should not be limited to images of young, thin, white, able-bodied women. Diversity in race, age, body type can send a great positive message that all bodies, all people, are valued.
Context is also important in advertising. While it may be appropriate and relevant for a woman to be depicted in a bikini at the beach, or to sell swimwear, this is a very different context from a woman in a bikini to sell tools, or an unrelated product. In the latter scenario the woman becomes a prop, a merely decorative object.
We’re heartened to see agencies like Badger and Winters committing to a higher standard, and we hope other companies follow suit.
Do you know of any other companies doing the same? Let us know in the comments!
Our new ambassador in her first media interview in the role
The hypersexual world and its impact on young girls and boys
In the two weeks since you heard Donald Trump’s confessions – unintended – of groping women, the strongest response has come from US First Lady Michelle Obama. You may have heard her say that Trumps’ words shook her to the core.
Well, this culture has also shaken, and motivated, Kerryn Baird, who’s the wife of New South Wales premier Mike Baird. This week, Kerryn Baird became the new ambassador for Collective Shout, an advocacy group for women and girls.
Listen to the interview below:
More comedy gold from the ASB: except we’re not laughing
It’s no secret that the advertising industry’s preferred model of regulation, self-regulation, has failed. Despite various government inquiries exploring the many flaws in the current system, as well as condemnation from child health professionals and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) the advertising industry has been given free reign to regulate themselves to the detriment of the community, in particular, children.
In 2012, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton called for a new government inquiry into the sexualisation of children in advertising to protect the health and development of children. He said,
“These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it.
“There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.
“The current self regulatory approach through the Advertising Standards Bureau is failing to protect children from sexualised advertising.”
We encourage supporters to utilise the complaints process when they come across hyper-sexualised advertising they suspect could be in breach of advertising codes. Many feel understandably frustrated as the ASB continues to dismiss valid complaints while simultaneously claiming that self-regulation is working well and this is evidenced by the fact they rarely uphold complaints! We’ve highlighted some of our previous complaints below to illustrate the great lengths the ASB goes to in order to excuse sexualising and adult sexual content in advertising.
Love and Rockets, Billboard
The photo of this billboard was taken from a Brisbane boy’s school. The ASB noted that it is not illegal for the sex industry to advertise outside schools and ruled that this billboard advertising a strip club to children treated sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience (school children) as it did “not show include explicit nudity”.
Schick for Men, Social Media video
In response to Schick’s commercial featuring a woman stripping off her clothes to sell men’s razors, the ASB said,”The Board noted that although the woman does remove her clothing…her breasts are covered by text on the screen. It was not sexualised.”
Supre Jeggings, TV commercial
The clothing store popular with teens and pre-teens released this ad to promote their new range of Jeggings. The ASB responded, “The woman was not posed in a sexualised manner.”
Lee Jeans, Billboard
It may come as no surprise that this image is part of a larger collection of photos by photographer and accused rapist Terry Richardson, with a reputation for porn-themed photo shoots and for sexually exploiting young models. The ASB said,
“There is no nudity [and] the woman’s pose was not inappropriately sexual.”
“Consumption of this style of lollipop is now common amongst people over 18.”
River ‘Get Excited’, Catalogue
An image of a woman who appeared to be nude aside from thigh high stockings, with her legs apart and her arms covering her private parts was “not overtly sexualised”, said the ASB.
The Firm Gentleman’s Club, Poster
We couldn’t locate a photo of the original poster, however it is the same (life-size) image as shown here on their website.
This life size poster was located on a busy Adelaide street. The ASB ruled this outdoor advertising was not in breach of industry codes and standards because “the image is relevant to the advertised product”. The product was women, for men’s sexual use.
Target Fifty Shades Lingerie, Billboard
The ASB said the billboard of a faceless woman reclining in lingerie complete with suspenders “[did] not present strongly sexualised imagery and is not inappropriate for viewing by a broad audience including children.”
Xotica Strip Club, Billboard
A supporter shared her frustration on encountering this large billboard while taking her children aged four through seven out for lunch. The ASB dismissed complaints about the billboard because the ad “[did] not show any private parts of the woman.” They went on to say:
“In the context of an advertisement for an adult venue the images of the women are not exploitative and degrading.”
“The building which is located in an area which contains a high proportion of adult venues…based on the location of the building, the audience likely to be frequenting the area are generally customers of the venues.”
UltraTune, TV Commercial
UltraTune used two dominatrix women brandishing whips and feigning arousal at the sight of tyres and car accessories for the enjoyment of a male staff member to promote their car service centres and accessories. The ASB dismissed complaints, ruling the dominatrix women were “relevant to the product” being advertised.
“Fresh One” coffee
Perth coffee brand “Fresh One” unleashed a series of porn inspired advertisements on its Facebook page earlier this year. The board upheld complaints against some of the ads, but dismissed complaints against others.
The Ad Standards Board dismissed complaints against this ad featuring a woman pouring milk over her chest.
“The Board noted that the woman is voluntarily pouring the milk over herself.”
“…the image is not exploitative or degrading, with references to ‘bathing in milk’ often associated with luxury (Cleopatra for example) rather than any demeaning activity.”
And this just in!
ASB dismisses complaints against General Pants Pornified “Wet Dreams” ad campaign. Read more here.
This is what industry self-regulation looks like.
The argument that adult, sex industry advertising can be justified in public spaces raises several questions. Do children and young people no longer have a right to be in a public space? Is it permissible for billboards to include sexually explicit content if they are promoting the purchase of women for sex? Do the rights of the sex industry to market itself to the masses take precedence over children’s rights to healthy development?
The Advertising Standards Bureau is a joke. As best-selling author and psychologist Steve Biddulph said, “The UK has an advertising watchdog that actually takes action. Australia has a watch tortoise that might have died.”
It takes a village to raise a child. We often hear from parents who feel overwhelmed and powerless to raise healthy children when the wider culture is undermining their attempts at every turn. Parents need the government and regulatory bodies to do their part in providing a safe environment for children.
Objectification of women should be recognised as discriminatory practice
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance (June 2011) recommended that “community concerns about the sexualisation of society, and the objectification of women” be taken into account as a key principle in every classification decision (Recommendation 2). This reflects the core message of Collective Shout that women must never be depicted as mere objects for the sexual satisfaction of men.
We were particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which related to issues of objectification of women as forms of discriminatory practice. It is remarkable that in the ASB’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women was not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
Clearly the self-regulatory system has been found lacking!
Industry has been warned, has had its chance to voluntarily self-regulate, and has conspicuously failed to act at the level required. The evidence of the past years of minimal response by industry shows that the market culture around this issue will not shift without stronger government initiative.
The festive season is here. You only need to look at the latest shopping centre catalogues, online stores and even your facebook news feed to see that companies are working hard to compete for your Xmas dollar.
But lets not forget which of these companies have used sexploitation to flog their products in 2013! Before you buy gifts for friends and family, check our list. Vote with your dollar and boycott companies that have sexualised children and objectified women for profit in 2013.
City Beach – looks like a surf shop right? Take another look. City Beach has a long history of selling products with sexist, violent and porn inspired imagery to its youth market.
Images of objectified, naked women can be found on T-shirts, shorts, wallets, thongs and even pencil cases. Read more about City Beach.
Target sexes up violence against women with its ”50 shades of grey” branded Lingerie, based on the “erotic” BDSM novel of the same name.
Porn inspired billboard advertising for the brand included a woman posed submissively in suspender stockings and another woman pictured in lingerie with BDSM wrist restraints. Read more.
Bookworld, the online retailer formerly known as Borders was called out for selling hundreds of incest themed novels, typically eroticising rape of children by a father figure.
Bookworld put the issue down to a computer glitch and promised to resolve the issue. At the time of writing, these titles are still listed for sale online. Details may be distressing, but you can read more here.
Best and Less
Best and Less were selling matching “bra” and underpants sets for girls as young as two.
When asked why they thought a two year old girl needed a “bra” Best and Less agreed to remove the garments, referring to a store policy prohibiting the sale of “bra-like” products for children under 8. But they didn’t keep their word. Read more about Best and Less here.
Roxy released a trailer for the Roxy Pro Biarritz 2013 Women’s surf competition. The promo featured a topless woman writhing around in a bed and no actual surfing.
We supported a petition created by pro-surfer Cori Schumacher who called on Roxy to stop their “all sex no surf” advertising. Roxy responded by complaining about “mischaracterisations” of their brand. Read more here.
Cafepress has been exposed for selling baby “onesies” with slogans such as “SL_T all I need is U” and “No gag reflex”. Despite repeated reassurances by Cafepress that this content would be removed, similar items remain on sale. Read more about Cafepress.
Got Foxtel? Thinking of getting Foxtel? Give it a miss! The network produces the toxic “Australia’s next top model” program and this year it promoted the show with its “Next best selfie” promotion, which involved soliciting images from underage girls on social media.
An outdoor ad campaign for a Foxtel channel featured a man sodomising a pig. No joke. Read more here.
A Bonds “Boobs” outdoor advertising campaign to launch a new range of bras reinforced a dominant cultural message that “Boobs” are what is most important about a woman. Worse still, the ad campaign was justified as marking a renewed partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Breast cancer survivor Rachel Lonergan described the campaign as “peurile.” Read more here.
We’ve challenged Cotton On before for their sexualised baby bodysuits and their pornified t-shirts. The Cotton On group also owns Typo. Read more here.
Typo came under fire for its Back To School sale selling items such as coffee mugs, drink bottles, notebooks and i-phone covers with porn inspired images. Read more here.
Despite their Respect and Responsibility policy, the AFL have continued to remain silent while ex-Hawks player Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin used his status as an AFL player to flog his pornographic Nena and Pasadena clothing line. Read more here.
Lance Franklin owns and promotes Nena and Pasadena pornified fashion brand yet also markets his Buddy Ball to children, presenting himself as a role model for young boys.
Mossimo advertised its range of underwear with a promotion called “Mossimo Peepshow.” The Facebook “peepshow” competition invited entrants to upload images and compete for votes. We decided to submit an entry of our own.
Venues that hosted pro-rape rapper “Tyler the Creator” in 2013
Earlier this year we campaigned against ‘rape-is-fun’ rapper Tyler the Creator. Surely venues hosting the events would cancel once they learned of his violent and degrading lyrics?
We haven’t forgotten about the weak response from these venues. Particularly, the Eatons Hill Hotel which still refused to cancel the final show in Brisbane after reports that a young woman had being raped at Tyler’s Sydney gig the night before.
Do you have anything to add to our list? Let us know what brands you will be boycotting in the lead up to Christmas. Better still, tell us about some positive alternatives. Which brands do you support and why? Post details in the comments below – together we can create a list of positive options!
To get things started, check out these two online sellers.
Toward the Stars
Toward the Stars – a safe haven from the commercialisation and sexualisation of girlhood, from the toxic gender stereotypes that dominate the marketing, media, and products targeted to children and young adults.
Gifted Hands – a not for profit organisation raising awareness and funding to help charities and organisations who support the widow, needy and homeless both here in Australia and overseas. Visit site.
Girlfriend and Dolly can be commended this year for taking strong stands on alcohol and drugs. This issue of GF is no exception, with ‘The High Life’ exploring the harms of smoking marijuana. When celebs boast about it – such as Miley Cyrus posting a photo of herself smoking pot with the caption “High as f—“ and Rihanna posting a marijuana plant she received for Valentine’s Day, this celeb endorsement gives the drug a big tick. GF points out however that the drug is “more harmful than most people realise.” “Short-term marijuana usage increases your risk of heart attack by five times in the first hour of smoking it and the risk of impaired judgment can lead to impulsive decision making, injury, or even death,” says Jan Copeland, director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre. It also doubles your risk of having a car accident. Girls who have smoked the drug describe a lack of motivation to deal with what was stressing them out, which contributes to feeling more stressed later. Fifty percent of long-term users develop a dependency. Users are more likely to suffer from anxiety attacks, psychosis and schizophrenia as well as lower IQ’s.
‘Is someone else directing your life?’ encourages girls to take control of their destiny, rather than be driven by others. “…if you find yourself increasingly frustrated with your life and/or where you’re headed, or feeling jealous of someone else’s success, it may be that your people-pleasing habits are getting the best of you. You also haven’t been true to what you really want, deep down,” says psychologist Dr Pene Schmidt. You can tell if someone has too much influence over you by the way they make you feel. “If you find yourself feeling worried, anxious, uncomfortable, or resentful, these can be great warning signs to let us know that we need to stop and reassess the situation,” she says. If friends continue to dictate the terms of a relationship, then perhaps it’s time to find new ones Girls are also given advice on communicating with parents who may be putting them under pressure. “Assertive communication is one of the most valuable tools teens can use if they’re experiencing conflict with their parents”, says Dr Schmidt. All good, but perhaps could have done without the half page illustration of a mother shouting through a megaphone with the words ‘Bla’, ‘Bla’, ‘Bla’ coming out of it maybe implying mothers yell but have nothing important to say which may not facilitate the positive and calm communication encouraged in the article. (Yes, I know, I’m a mother). Read entire post here.
For the past few weeks I’ve been addressing female and male students around the country on the issue of the representation of women and girls in media and popular culture. I’ve been urging the boys to reject cultural messaging that socialises them into a calloused and brutalised version of masculinity. Yesterday I received a Facebook message from Ethan, in Year 8 at a Sydney school. I was so encouraged.
Hi Melinda my name is Ethan, I was at your seminar. I was in the year 8 talk and what you were saying really moved me. It made me realise that even when I make joke how much it can affect girls. Im really going to watch what I say from now on. I would just like to say thank you, I learnt a lot (: Ethan
It has been heartening to see so many boys joining Collective Shout because they want to fight sexploitation and make a difference. To see them getting angry, to hear them asking from the audience: “What? How can that be allowed”? To listen to their concerns for their sisters and even for their future daughters.
I was reflecting on this as I finally got around to watching this Ted talk by Jackson Katz. So many people had mentioned it to me on my travels. It is such a timely message. As Katz says, violence against women isn’t a women’s issue – “This issue is primarily about us.”
Thanks to our friends at ‘The Illusionist’ for this blog post on Dove. With the deluge of lovey-dovey isn’t Dove wonderful guff all over the social media stratosphere, it was refreshing to read this piece which sums up all that is wrong with the so-called ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. So what if they make cool videos? Does that justify everything else the company does? Collective Shout has had Dove in its sights since our inception four years ago, and its parent company Unilever continues to appear on our annual ‘Cross ‘em off your XMAS list’
This week my inbox was flooded with emails from friends and acquaintances – who had forwarded me the link to the latest Dove “Real Beauty” video, highlighting the disconnect between women’s perceptions of their own attractiveness and how outsiders see them. The point of the video is to show that women are often too critical of their looks. I was glad to see how this video sparked important conversations in the blogosphere and social media. But there’s a dark side to Dove that many people are unaware of.
I had written a blog post about some problematic aspects of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign back in October 2008. Recently, while researching material for my feature-length documentary, I came across more evidence that supported my earlier points. Thing is – I’ve been reluctant to speak up about these issues for several reasons. The key ones:
Dove’s campaigns are the only ones that – at least on the surface – promote positive body image, in an ocean of toxic advertising set to make women feel insecure about their looks
I am acquainted with several people connected to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign – they’re good-intentioned people I deeply respect and admire.
I actually really like Dove’s videos
So, I considered these issues and thought about the latest email I received from my friend S. I wondered, would she feel that same way if she knew the other side of the story? My hunch: probably not. Staying quiet would be the easy thing to do. But is it the right thing to do?
So, without further ado, I am addressing the big elephant in the room. Below you will find my original post about Dove – with some tweaks and updates reflecting new evidence I recently discovered.
About three months ago, upon completing the first phase of research for my film, I held two slideshow presentations in front of an audience of friends, acquaintances, and a few people working in the TV/movie industry in Paris. Very much in the style of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
At the heart of the presentation is the assertion that the obsession over the pursuit of the perfect female body is one of the integral parts of the capitalist system. If women were suddenly content with their appearance – accepting their body size, skin tone, wrinkles, graying hair, and the size and shape of their breasts, amongst other things – entire industries would collapse. Indeed worldwide revenues for cosmetics, dieting products, and cosmetic surgery totaled almost 500 billion dollars in 2006. Thus the saturation of images in advertising and mass media promoting an idealized, surgically-enhanced beauty that is impossible to achieve.
Well, during my presentations I would invariably get asked about the company Dove and its campaign for “Real Beauty.” Wasn’t that refreshingly positive? People would ask. It is a question that comes up every time I talk about my project. The short answer? Yes and no.
The people at Dove have actually exploited a void in the marketplace. By introducing so-called women with “real” bodies, they distinguished themselves from their competitors. According to the New Yorker, after the introduction of their “Real Beauty” campaign, Dove’s sales shot up 700% in the U.K. Read more here.
And what about this, also brought to you by Unilever?
You know the one thing that’s more insulting than blatantly sexist/misogynistic advertising?
Advertising that touts pseudo-feminism but sends the exact same bigoted message, only cloaking it in women’s liberation to soften the blow.
Take the new ad from Triumph Lingerie Australia, for example. The ad’s tagline reads ‘Welcome to the Republic of Triumph’ and asks women to declare themselves. The associated image is rather epic – featuring lingerie-clad women marching and waving Mao-ish red flags while holding protest signs aloft. One of the signs reads “It’s my right to have a career and a baby” while another declares “It’s my right to smash the glass ceiling.”
Except the ad’s attempt at appealing to our feminist souls is an epic fail, because the women featured are not only perfectly perky and seriously skinny, they’re also airbrushed to the nth degree and look decidedly plastic and flawless. They are entirely, disturbingly unreal.
The Triumph ‘feminist’ message that sits alongside its contradictory content is awful, but by no means is it the first time a company has hidden misogynistic agendas behind pseudo-feminist armour.
Take the Dove real beauty campaign, for example. The toiletries company claims to be about advertising images of women with real bodies, of all ages who are ethnically diverse. An admirable effort.
But their ‘real beauty’ campaign is utterly hollow, when Dove is owned by Unilever who sell such patriarchal products like ‘Fair and Lovely’ skin-lightening cream (which is particularly popular in India where women are made to feel that the lighter their skin, the more beautiful they’ll be).
Or how about everyone’s favourite (insert sarcasm) athletic company, Nike? For a little while there they actually churned out some (surprisingly, begrudgingly) good and powerful ads that portrayed famous sportswomen not as sex symbols, but as the tough athletes they are in the feminist ‘Rock Victorious’ campaign of 2010.
But any ground Nike gained with women has been lost after their EPIC FAIL in releasing a Gold Digging t-shirt to ‘celebrate’ the fact that female athletes bought home 29 of Team USA’s 46 gold medals at the London Olympic Games.
If that t-shirt was Nike’s attempt at showing support for their female athletes, then we’d prefer they Just Not Do It.
But, back to the Triumph Australia ad and its ‘Declare Yourself’ feminist message alongside contradictory models. The height of irony is that one of the models is waving a sign that says “It’s my right to feel good about myself” – so we hope women looking at this ad take a moment to note the wrinkle-free, no-bulge-in-sight, big-breasted (airbrushed) models in their bras and undies and Declare themselves unimpressed with this faux-feminism marketing campaign.
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
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