Let's take a break from my holiday for a moment, shall we, and head back to Australia, where one of my favourite shops has found itself targeted by the moral outrage police.
While scrolling through Instagram this afternoon, I discovered that lingerie chain Honey Birdette has been targeted by a woman in a Brisbane shopping centre who finds their advertising offensive and invited others on social media to join her in complaining to the centre management. According to this woman "the fact that Honey Birdette has a poster of a not far from bare breasted woman in the front window of their store" is wrong and shouldn't be tolerated. Why? Because she finds it "distasteful".
She is quite entitled to her opinion, and if she feels it's a good use of her time to complain about Honey Birdette's advertising, then she is allowed to do so. However, why is the sight of a woman in lingerie, advertising lingerie, for a lingerie store "distasteful"?
Now, before I go on, I will say this: I Love with a capital L Honey Birdette. I have danced in their bras and latex and am dying to get my hands on their Karina Collection. Whenever I have gone into a Honey Birdette boutique I have been treated with respect and given excellent customer service by the Honeys. During my last dance competition, I went into Honey Birdette Highpoint looking for something specific and the Honey there spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes helping me find exactly what I wanted and then helping me try it on and letting me see and feel how it felt. I walked away one very happy dancer!
But, back to the point. This woman went on to say that she finds the advertising distasteful and wants the images removed because "many children walk past this store on a daily basis and many families shop here."
So, reading between the lines, it sounds like a) this woman doesn't shop at Honey Birdette (and that's both her choice and her loss), and b) wants society to raise her children for her, but according to her morals and values.
But, believe it or not, it's actually your job, as a parent, to raise your own children, and you are welcome to instil your morals and values in them. If you find the sight of a woman in lingerie advertising lingerie distasteful and offensive and you feel it's important for your child not to be exposed to these images, you can a) find a new place to shop, b) take a different route through the shopping centre that avoids going past Honey Birdette, or c) be a parent and, if your child asks questions about the images, answer these questions in a positive, age-appropriate way that does not slut-shame the models or those who shop at Honey Birdette.
I'd also hazard a guess that most children under the age of about ten wouldn't even notice Honey Birdette advertising, as it's not geared towards them and it's not for a product they are interested in. Those older children who might see the pictures and be curious about why the model is not wearing her clothes should be able to ask questions of their parents and be given an appropriate and factual explanation. A response such as "She's advertising underwear for grown-ups" or "She's showing grown-up's what's in that store" would be suitable, and further questions should be answered in the same manner. We won't cure our current culture of sexism and slut-shaming by policing every image of every woman in lingerie, regardless of what the image is selling.
Context is important when considering if an image of a woman in lingerie is inappropriate. An ad for a car which features a woman in her lingerie certainly fits the above, as the product being advertised is completely separate from the image of the model in her underwear. An ad for lingerie featuring a woman in, well, the lingerie the company is trying to sell, is no different than an ad for a car that features only a car: both are directly showing the product and demonstrating its use: a car is for driving, lingerie is for wearing and, newsflash, it's OK to wear lingerie!
When you choose to wear it is your choice, but bras and panties can be so much more than practical undergarments if we want. If you're into the practical undergarments, that's awesome! Rock that beige, girl! If you want to wear something sexy under your clothes because it makes you feel special, do it! If you want to strip off your clothes when you get home and strut around in your lingerie because you're gorgeous and sexy and wonderful, go for it! If you want to wear it for or with someone else, that's great too. I will also add here that it's also totally OK if you're not into lingerie of any sort, wear or not as you feel comfortable and do what's right for you.
And I digress again.
Back to Honey Birdette.
After the original complainant aired her grievances on social media, the Director of the Center for Human Dignity and Queensland Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Ms. Wendy Francis, weighed in with her opinion. She accuses Honey Birdette of "ignoring community standards and any sense of corporate responsibility to protect children's innocence." She further went on to say that Honey Birdette "make our shopping centres unsafe places for women and children and groom our young boys to have an appetite for pornography."
Ms. Francis is, like the original complainant, entitled to her opinions and permitted to air them. Yet I feel slightly squeamish reading these comments from an ACL leader when I think about the 'corporate responsibility' the churches had to protect the innocence of children (often very vulnerable children) in their care and how they failed so spectacularly and left victims and their families with life-long, devastating scars, many of which these institutions are refusing to acknowledge today. The image of a woman advertising lingerie in a shopping centre is hardly going to do any damage to a child's innocence, unless the child is shamed for seeing or asking questions about the image. That shame doesn't come from the image, but from the actions of those around them, and is what feeds the toxic sexism and rape-culture that pervade today's society.
As for Ms. Fancis's claim that Honey Birdette makes shopping centres unsafe places for women and children, all I have to say in response is that three women were killed this week, in their own homes, at the hands of a current or ex-partner. And another three were killed last week. Three more will be killed next week. And the week after. And the week after. And the week after. Please tell me I don't have to explain further. A women and her children are more likely to be harmed, raped or murdered in their own home than a shopping centre, whether or not the said shopping centre has advertisements for lingerie on its walls or not.
Onto her second claim, in regards to grooming young boys to have an appetite for pornography. This is an interesting one, as it is true that children (both boys and girls) are accessing pornography at younger and younger ages: the average age most children see their first pornographic image or video is eleven. It is also true that studies have shown that there is a correlation between a consumption of pornography at a young age and increased sexual violence as an adult.
But there is one important element that Ms. Francis has missed (or conveniently ignored) by comparing Honey Birdette advertising to pornography.
Honey Birdette advertising is not porn. It's not even soft porn. It's pictures of women in Honey Birdette products.
It's true that pornography is all around us, but by labelling every image of (primarily) women in underwear or otherwise scantily clad as porn we are actually doing something wrong ourselves: we're slut-shaming both the models in the advertisements and those people (professional porn stars or amateur home videographers) who choose (and I stress choose, human trafficking in the sex industry is a whole different ball game) to partake in these videos and the acts within. If we are sending the message that porn is inherently bad, something 'dirty' and that people who watch and participate in pornography videos are morally deviant, and then slap the label 'pornography' on an image of a woman in lingerie, we are giving those labels to her too.
There's nothing wrong with legal, consensual pornography, partaken in and watched by adults. Yes, it is true, that many of the acts depicted in pornography feature simulated violence against women, but there are a growing number of porn sites which cater for different tastes and, whether we like it or not, porn's not going to go away any time soon. This article from the Huffington Post has some great tips on helping parents and children navigate the digital world and the inevitable exposure to pornography that will come. We should not be afraid of discussing sex and sexual images with our children, but we need to be careful not to instil shame or blame, as then they will turn to the internet for information and one thing we can all agree on is that pornography is not real sex and is definitely not a good resource for teaching first-timers the ropes.
Honey Birdette is a lingerie chain; it does also sell things such as sex-toys, bondage and adult board games, but it's primary focus is its lingerie collections. And how are they supposed to advertise their lingerie if they can't have their models wearing it in their advertising? No one bats an eyelid at the sight of a woman in a bikini advertising swimwear and she's showing just as much skin and, more often than not, is depicted in a pose that can be interpreted as sexual. And don't get me started on the ads done by the likes of Calvin Klein and Bonds showing various (usually famous) men standing around in their jocks. Again, nothing wrong with these ads, Calvin Klein is an underwear chain and they need to advertise their product, but these types of advertisements are very rarely the target of a social media smear campaign and don't tend to get reported to the Advertising Standards Bureau or compared to pornography. Oddly, the male models in these types of ads tend to be showing far more skin, as they generally have only their genitals covered, than a female model in lingerie, who usually has her chest and genitals covered, and sometimes even her legs if she is wearing stockings or boots.
So, instead of wringing our hands over Honey Birdette's advertising, let's take a deep breath, step back, and appreciate two things: 1) you are under no obligation to look at, buy, wear or go anywhere near anything Honey Birdette related if you don't want to, and 2) Honey Birdette is quite within their rights to advertise their products and be in our shopping centres.
And if you really are concerned about the rights of children and want to make a difference, here are some organisations I suggest donating your time, money and energy to. It will make more difference than complaining about lingerie ads.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.