Stop making sex objects of women and kids

In this guest post, Melinda Tankard Reist calls on advertisers to stop sexualising kids and objectifying women

The ad industry has the nasty habit of using self-regulation to its commercial advantage, exploiting women’s bodies in the process. Corporate social responsibility is sacrificed on an altar of sexism.

Inadequacies in the system include a weak code of ethics, no pre-vetting of ads, the Ad Standards Bureau’s powerlessness to order the removal of ads, inadequate monitoring and no meaningful penalties.

Many people don’t know how to make a complaint. Self regulation means the industry gets to do what it wants – and pretty much get away with it.

The colonisation of public space with objectified and sexualised images of women and girls continues unabated. Porn inspired representations of women in the public space have become the norm.

And while sexualised representations of women and girls displayed in a workplace constitute sexual harassment under anti-discrimination law, the open display of similar images of women in the public domain – including in shops, which are also workplaces (e.g. General Pants) – is exempt from these laws.

Collective Shout, an organisation that has been targeting advertisers which objectify women and sexualise girls to sell stuff, has helped create a backlash against these practices.

And yes, we’ve had wins against some big brands, including Harvey Norman, Myer, Calvin Klein, Bonds, Best & Less and Rivers.

But wouldn’t it be good if companies chose to act ethically in the first place, rather than being forced to do the right thing by us?

And ASB rulings are inconsistent, with one ad ruled out of bounds following complaints, while complaints against a similar ad by another company are dismissed.

Collective Shout is about to release its line-up of corporate offenders for our annual ‘Cross ’em off your Xmas list’ campaign. We are calling on consumers not to pay for sexploitation this Xmas – an updated list in the lead up to Xmas will be posted here.

There are plenty to choose from…

Diva for pimping Playboy porno chic bling to its target customer base of girls aged eight-13. Described by Corporate Failings as “Perhaps the most blatant example of consumer disregard we’ve come across”. Our Change.org petition – now approaching 7,000 signatures – was delivered in Diva stores this week. Some staff refused to accept it, saying they had been instructed not to. Diva is owned by BB Retail Capital which also owns Adairs and Bras N Things, where the signature brand of the porn industry gets centre spread in linen and underwear, and where women are told to ‘Be a Bunny’.

Supre for sexualised campaigns aimed at tween/teen girls. From t-shirts advertising sexual availability to topless young models on buses, Supre has a long history.

America Apparel for importing its porn inspired representations of women to Australia.

Nando’s Mumbrella readers may recall the Nandos pole dancing mother. More recently was the burlesque/stripper model in the ‘Little Hotties’ campaign, which Nando’s marketing director Kim Russell described as “sassy not sleazy”.

Unilever for claiming to care about ‘real’ beauty and the worth of women through its Dove label while using demeaning advertising promoting women as sexual recreation – (e.g Lynx Lodge).

McDonalds/Fuelzone, Caltex – not the place for your holiday fuel stop, selling extreme porn titles promoting rape, incest and sex with young girls. While BP, Shell/Coles Express and Mobil withdrew these titles after a campaign led by Julie Gale of Kids Free 2B Kids, McDonalds/Fuelzone and Caltex have remained intransigent.

I’d advise you not to drop in at 7-Eleven for Xmas snacks for the same reason.

City Beach, General Pants, Rivers, Cotton On, Factorie, Roger David, live, Surfstitch, Universal, Glue Store, New Generation for a range of t-shirts depicting women in porn-themed poses and subjected to eroticised violence. Sixty high-profile people put their names to an open letter calling for removal of these t-shirts for normalising violence against women and involuntarily exposing children to sexualised images.

The proliferation and globalisation of sexual imagery in mainstream culture cannot continue to be given free rein. Public accountability and social responsibility – not profit margins – should be the guiding principles.

Melinda Tankard Reist is an author and social commentator


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.