See what we did there with the vocative comma?
A WAAC member recently wrote to Bras N Things to complain about BNT’s sexually objectifying, fetishistic ad campaigns — yeah, they’ve had a few such campaigns on the go, recently. See our previous posts, Is Bras N Things getting its ad imagery from Hustler? (it seems they are) and Vamp is porn, Bras N Things. The complaints focused on the documented harms that BNT’s style of advertising can cause to women and girls, harms that
- Promote greater tolerance of violence towards women
- Increase incidence of body dismorphia
- Cause women and girls to self-objectify and internalise misogyny
- Fundamentally diminish women’s personhood and basic right to be treated as whole human persons.
All these things have been pointed out to BNT, but it seems that BNT chooses to ignore them and instead prioritise making a buck over women’s and girls’ safety.
So. What did we learn from BNT’s replies to the complaints? Well, the emails received back from them were pretty pathetic, as you’d expect, but they do provide some insights into the strategies and tactics used by advertising- and marketing-types to deflect criticism of images that promote violence towards women and girls. Here’s the response from their National Marketing Manager (who is always genuinely courteous and prompt), presented as-is:
“We are so sorry that this ad has caused offence, please know it is never our intention and it most certainly wasn’t the intention when we pulled this campaign together. At Bras N Things we are passionate about empowering all women to feel beautiful from the inside and out and as such, we endeavour to provide women with a range of lingerie and sleepwear products that appeal to many different women’s tastes and style preferences.
Clementine (the model in the campaign) is like part of the BNT family and we have worked with her in the past. Her and her daughter were part of our Mother’s Day campaign and she also featured in our Maternity campaign. This Valentine’s Day campaign was about her true love, her hubby. That was our sole intention when pulling the campaign together, nothing more.
We are conscious that some of the featured product or the way we advertise it may not appeal to the individual tastes and preferences of select customers however our goal is to accommodate the varied tastes and preferences of all women who shop at Bras N Things.”
After they’ve dealt with you once, they give you a much shorter reply for any future complaints:
“I wanted to reiterate that our campaigns are never intended to be harmful or disrespectful, they are created with the intention for women to embrace who they are across all individual styles and personalities. As a woman myself, I recognise that not all women may feel the same however I am also aware of the empowering feeling of confidence one can have and should embrace from wearing a beautiful set of lingerie which is also echoed in the many compliments we receive on a weekly basis.”
They also don’t bother to answer to any follow-up emails that are sent in relation to the (pretty poor) initial response they’ve given — one email is all you’ll ever get from them, and then they’ll use it in a copy-and-paste response to any complaint made to the Advertising Standards Bureau (which is fine, cos we just copy-and-paste our complaints to them, too! hahahaha!).
We can see from the above that the following is what BNT focus on in their response (and we’ve included some commentary, just in case BNT want to treat this as an invitation to education):
- Choice. Irrelevant. They fetishise this so much, you wonder they don’t take a picture of it and stick it in their window along with their other fetish gear. The treat choice as if it exists in a vacuum outside of any social or material reality that women experience as a class: ‘I choose my choice’, could be their catch-cry, along with all the dead-end reasoning that goes along with it.
- Taste and ‘preference’. Irrelevant. Sure, some of this stuff might seem tacky to people, but that’s not what’s at issue — an appeal to personal taste does not constitute an argument, and that’s why we don’t go there at WAAC. Because, as you may have noticed, we only deal in proper argument, not feels. We suppose, also, that it might be many people’s ‘preference’ to not have images that lead to tolerance of violence against women be displayed in a public mall, but that’s just us, it seems, and not BNT.
- Offence. Irrelevant. Do we have a right to not be offended? Yes, that is a real question that can be interrogated; but it’s irrelevant, here. Which is maybe why BNT wants us to believe that we believe (are you following? BNT hopes not …) that we are feeling offended. Again, we at WAAC keep our feels out of it and our minds in it. It’s a common response of marketers to point to any ‘offence’ that might be caused, rather than the real, actual harm that is visited on women as a class, and this tactic is deliberately used to ignore violence against women as a societal problem that retailers could do something about.
- The personal history of the model. Irrelevant. This one was hilarious. Go back and read it again, just for a laff. Why would we care about a model’s private life? Again, hilarious. And should BNT really be mentioning people’s private circumstances, anyway? (Privacy Act 1988, much? Even if it’s not a breach, you still gotta be careful, you know?) Note, also, how BNT bang on about the model’s “hubby” (ugh — are we all three years old, now?) and the couple’s daughter. Why on earth would we care about them? Maybe they are a nice enough family, and presumably they are no problem for society, but really? These people are not our personal problem — but BNT’s objectifying images of women absolutely is problem … for women.
- The appeal to individual experience and personality. Irrelevant. Sure, individual experience matters, but it doesn’t determine what is true for the majority. What’s true for the majority — for men as well as women — is that the semiotics of these images communicate the message that women’s potential can only be realised through a veeeeery limited type of hetero-normative sexuality that exists to please — and to pleasure — men. If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, then you need to go back and start again, BNT. And personality? Well, we aren’t going to start psychologising people … because again, it’s ir-rel-e-vant.
- Empowerment. Irrelevant. Struth, where to start with this piece of meaningless, empty, newspeak, so favoured by the neo-liberals? Empowerment is about a person’s interior state, not about any actual, real-life power that can transform social conditions — in this case, the social conditions that fortify women’s inferior and subordinate status. How is it relevant if an individual ‘feels’ (note, more feels) empowered? How does an individual’s sense of ’empowerment’ change the material realities of our experiences as members of the sex class ‘woman’? Bonkers arguing from BNT and just about every other neo-liberal, capitalist, patriarchal playmate out there.
- One’s status as a woman and that women “should” feel confident in wearing lingerie. Irrelevant. One’s status as woman is not relevant to these complaints insofar as one’s individual ‘womanhood’ “should” (wow, still can’t get over the fact that BNT used that word!) be contracted to the purchasing and wearing of lingerie. Weird thinking, innit. “Should.” That said, images that objectify us as a class categorically are a problem for individual women in society in that they contribute to the social acceptance of male violence towards us. Ever heard of the saying ‘the personal is political’?
- Intent. Irrelevant. Sure, maybe they don’t “intend” for their campaigns to be harmful, but, again, wot we just sed: We told you this stuff is harmful, and backed our claims up with evidence, so what are you doing about it? Your ‘intent’ is irrelevant, but the effects of your advertising are most certainly not.
So, you can see, pretty much everything listed above is — you guessed it — irrelevant, indicating either that BNT can’t deduce and respond to an argument when they see one, or they are being deliberately contrary and disobliging. Either way, it’s not a good look for BNT.
Bras N Things, you’be been WAAC’d.