Bras N Things find it “tough” to respond to scholarly evidence of the links between the sexualisation of women in advertising imagery and rape culture.
Here’s what they say in response to a complaint lodged by a WAAC member about BNT’s ‘Take it all off’ ad campaign, which ran for a whole month in Australia’s shopping malls and plazas:
…[t]his is a tough one to respond to as a lot of it is based on the consumers thoughts of what happens at Schoolies weeks and and then loosely ties it back to us. I will also steer clear of any links to rape as I strongly disagree with this.
As usual, BNT misprepresent what the complaint is about — or aren’t informed enough to understand it. We try to work on the principle of charity at WAAC, but we admit that neither of those interpretations is very charitable, even if either and/or both are likely accurate. BNT are very confused about rape and rape culture (rape is not mentioned in the complaint, but rape culture is), and although they have been invited to educate themselves on the topic according to the research, they still don’t seem to be able to make such an intellectual commitment. They refer instead dismissively to the complainant’s ‘thoughts’ (as if randomly occurring) and not the invitation to investigate the evidence or to consider schoolies’ as an example of rape culture; this is a textbook case of an ad hominem attack, rather than a counter to a reasoned argument. And that makes it dishonest.
You might also notice the glaring contradiction in the accusation that the complainant is basing their objection on ‘thoughts’, and then BNT’s saying boldly in the next sentence, “I strongly disagree with this.” And then … nothing … . We say ‘boldly’, as it’s a pretty bold move to disagree with something without a rationale as to why.
BNT further says that the complaint “loosely” ties things back to BNT. Again, a misprepresentation or misunderstanding of a pretty simple and proven fact: sexualised imagery of women validates and perpetuates male violence towards women and girls. When BNT show sexualised images of women in their windows — as they invariably seem to do, these days — they are part of the problem just described. Yes, it’s a tough one to respond to, BNT … because you have no response.
Rather than bother with a proper argument, BNT also prefer to assume they can educate already-educated women on the matter by telling us that “the lingerie is worn underneath clothes”. Yes. It’s worn underneath clothes. Did you get that, Women? Let us say it slowly and maybe you’ll understand it: unnn-derrr-neath cloooothes. Trying to make a woman appear stupid is a common tactic used by people who benefit from (or are enmeshed in, e.g., BNT) the patriarchy — cripes, we all know it. We’re kinda used to that by now, given that women are forever being called strident and hysterical and shrill … as feminist scholars and analysts have pointed out for 50 years *sigh*. Maybe BNT could play sexism bingo with us one night? Aside from which, how is the point that lingerie is woooorn unnn-derrr-neath cloooothes even relevant? They need to take a course in simple rhetoric, we say. And still we fail to see how a commentary on lingerie is even relevant to a complaint about the presentation of women in advertising.
(You’ll also notice that BNT refers to the complainant as a ‘consumer’. A capitalist Freudian slip, if ever there was one. Oops.)
And finally, they talk about ‘feels’ in the very best neo-liberal tradition (emphasis added):
Bras N Things does not feel that it has breached any advertising standards.
They feel it so strongly they say it twice, in fact. They might just as well have used the word, ‘think’.
And what of Ad Standards’ Community Panel response? Well, at least this time they try to set the record straight by saying that it’s not their job to take account of research that examines community-wide phenomena, but rather to
consider the content of an individual advertisement and whether it was in line with prevailing community standards and the AANA Code of Ethics, and that it was not the Panel’s role to set community standards.
This argument was made, also, when the Community Panel ‘addressed’ the matter of the constant bombardment of sexualised advertising we face when we head to the shops. Such limits on the Community Panel’s via the pathetic AANA Code of Ethics make it almost impossible to have any single complaint about an individual advert upheld because the Australian Association of National Advertisers — which is basically the boss of Ad Standards, and which ‘adopts’ the Code of Ethics — has engineered social impotence into the DNA of their industry ‘watch dog’.
That aside, the Community Panel nevertheless are ignoring the social impacts of the structures they take part in, when they say,
the wording of the poster, ‘the take it all off sale’, was not directed to the woman or women in general
This is a clear failure of their amended Code of Ethics, which is meant to protect entire classes of people (indeed, as well as individuals, but that horse seems to have bolted) from exploitative or degrading advertising. This new ‘standard’ can never be upheld if their argument is that only the content of individual advertisements is ever considered.
They re-iterate their analysis of the ‘harmlessness’ of the wording of the advertising by stating that there was
no suggestion that she was telling other people to take their clothes off
Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree with that one, although we would like to note that ‘Take it all off’ is a grammatical imperative and is thus considered an order, command, warning, or instruction by its very linguistic nature. It might be helpful if both BNT and the Community Panel undertook a course in English grammar as well as rhetoric.
It’s also interesting to note that the Community Panel only addresses issues that the respondent addresses. The WAAC member’s complaint mentioned links with rape culture; BNT said they ‘disagree’ (with ‘rape’, which seems a funny thing to say) and ignored the points made about rape culture, and the Community Panel didn’t find it necessary to address that part of the complaint. It’s all very chummy.
In the end it’s all just “light-hearted”, according to Ad Standards — yet another example of women being told to learn how to take a joke. And, finally, the Community Panel joined in on pointing out how stupid women are by quoting, word-for-word, BNT’s belittling “lingerie is worn underneath clothes”. More evidence that Ad Standards is just a shill for advertisers, we say.
Ad Standards and BNT, you’ve been WAAC’d.
The images, below, are brought to you by your local Westfield.