'I'd like to .... that': Honey Birdette's shock Xmas gift
Have our shopping centres crossed the line by allowing lingerie retailer Honey Birdette to plaster 'soft porn' on its stores, asks SHERELE MOODY
I CAN only imagine what is said during a Honey Birdette marketing meeting.
Perhaps the conversation goes something like this: "Hey, let's put a photograph of a scantily clad hairless vagina in our catalogue and at the front of our outlets in the lead-up to Christmas. Make sure the panties show a good percentage of side labia. And don't forget to emblazon "ASK FOR YOUR CANDY" in capital letters across the image."
The lingerie retailer is known for titillating and offending Aussie consumers by covering its stores - usually in major shopping centres - with controversial marketing that objectifies women.
At best, Honey Birdette advertisements serve up "hyper-sexualised" imagery of young women.
At worst, it delivers a good dose of "soft porn".
There is a fine-line between empowering women and turning them into sex objects.
I believe Honey Birdette has well and truly crossed that line in its attempt to profit from the female form.
I am a feminist and that means I'm 110 per cent behind a woman having the freedom to work in whatever industry she wants - including modelling lingerie.
I am also opposed to policing what women wear.
As a gay woman, I do not see myself as a prude with a churlish view of women looking sexy.
But coming face-to-face with near-naked vaginas while strolling through the mall is enough to make me want to grab a can of black spray paint to do a little bit of censoring.
I cannot even imagine the circumstances that resulted in someone at Honey Birdette deciding impressionable youngsters should see scantily clad genitals or a women humping Santa while they try to find their mum a Christmas present.
Or why they thought it would be a great thing to tell young women to "Give Santa a treat" - especially as Santa is a strange man who appears in your home once a year.
You cannot underestimate the impact of marketing campaigns like Honey Birdette's.
Children and young people are constantly bombarded with unrealistic ideations of beauty and sexuality thanks to television, movies, computer games, social media and the internet.
Adolescent women are extremely vulnerable to body dysmorphia - suffering from high rates of anorexia and bulimia, excessive grooming to camouflage "defects" like skin blemishes, experiencing depression and anxiety over their looks and, in the worst cases, attempting self-harm and suicide.
Doctors are also reporting females as young as nine are seeking labiaplasty, vulvaplasty and breast enhancements because they want their bodies to be Photoshop perfect.
We should be re-enforcing the message that the bodies women are born with are normal, that female genitalia comes in many variations and that none of those variations are wrong or unsexy.
The Honey Birdette advertising can also have a negative impact on how boys view women, with some lads seeing the models as "things" who exist for one reason - S.E.X.
"About four weeks ago I was at Westfield Carindale and was near the Honey Birdette shop," a woman called Jo recently told Collective Shout, which campaigns against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls.
"There were two older teenage boys out the front of the shop, smirking and pointing at the images in the window.
"I heard one say to the other. 'I'd like to f*#k that!' and there was a snigger of agreement from the other boy."
"Soft porn" imagery plays a huge role in rape culture, where women exist purely for the sexual gratification of men.
Just a few weeks ago, an Irish defence lawyer forced a young "rape" victim to hold up - in court - the underwear she was wearing when she was allegedly attacked.
"You have to look at the way she was dressed," the barrister told the jury that eventually acquitted her client, the accused rapist.
"She was wearing a thong with a lace front."
This shows that in the minds of many men, and some women, sexy underwear equals consent.
Businesses have a responsibility to ensure their products - and their marketing campaigns - are socially acceptable.
Five years ago, Woolworths decided to stock a product that no one in their right mind would think to buy from any supermarket - a vibrator.
The grocery giant silently slipped the Vibrating Bullet "clitoral stimulator" onto the shelves of its 900 stores across Australia.
Days later, after word had reached the media and Australians started to bombard the company with complaints, the vibrators disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived.
"Society is already suffering massive problems with young children being over-sexualised ... this move by Woolies just makes the problem worse," Roslyn Phillips, from the Christian advocacy group FamilyVoice Australia, said at the time.
Woolworths removed the sex toy without argument, yet Honey Birdette is digging in its heels and refusing to tone down the soft porn gracing their premises.
Honey Birdette is no stranger to controversy.
The Advertising Standards Bureau has banned 13 of its adverts for being "sexually explicit, highly pornographic and condoning excess violence".
The business copped a ban earlier this year for a marketing campaign clearly showing a woman's nipple.
The watchdog said it contained "high level nudity and sexual suggestion".
"The level of nudity was at the higher end of the scale and the image was highly sexualised 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 ASB said.
The watchdog says it has had multiple complaints about Honey Birdette's current Christmas campaign but a decision is yet to be made.
A petition calling for Honey Birdette to change its marketing strategy has gained almost 70,000 signatures.
Honey Birdette managing director Eloise Monaghan refuses to be swayed, saying: "We thought we would be on our best behaviour this holiday season and created a playful campaign which celebrated the spirit of Christmas.
"However, once again we have become the target of complaints that are engineered by certain hyper-conservative religious groups under the pretence of 'protect the children'.
"No child is looking at our store windows and saying 'I'm offended'."
Of course, dressing sexily can be empowering. Women should be encouraged to do whatever they want with their bodies because they are the only people who know what feels good - and empowering - for them.
And yes, businesses - even those that sell sexy underwear - must be able to promote their product.
But when they do this in public settings they have a responsibility to produce material that does not negatively impact vulnerable young minds or reduce women to sex objects.
This may come as a surprise, but women do not need soft porn imagery to entice them into buying sexy undies.
Perhaps Honey Birdette's management could next year give us all the present of socially responsible marketing and good taste.
Surely, it is possible to sell lingerie without having half-naked vaginas staring at us while we do our Christmas shopping. - NewsRegional
News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is the recipient of the 2018 BandT Women in Media Social Change Maker Award and has multiple Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her work reducing violence against women and children. She is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Femicide Australia Map.