By Chantal Rumble
October 29, 2006
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SHE is standing on the corner of Swanston and Bourke streets, overlooking the crowds in the mall — but she has no feet and no head.
The woman’s image in the imposing billboard has been cut off at the neck and knees, leaving just a torso, albeit a perfect one, to advertise sexy lingerie.
Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric, Taj al-Din al-Hilali, sparked outrage this week when he said women who dress immodestly are akin to meat. But are the ads we see in our streets every day, like this billboard, sending the same message?
Yes, says Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a specialist in outdoor advertising and sexual harassment from the University of Melbourne’s Centre of Public Policy.
Dr Rosewarne says images such as this reduce women to mere sexual objects. “By cutting out the head you are immediately saying her personality and brains aren’t important in the slightest. We are just interested in her body. It doesn’t even matter who she is,” she says.
The billboard on Bourke Street is part of an ongoing advertising campaign for a lingerie line by Elle “The Body” MacPherson. All the images in the campaign contain women wearing underwear, with their heads obscured or cropped from the photo.
The campaign has earned its creators many industry awards but also many headaches. The industry’s self-regulating body, the Advertising Standards Bureau, has received 30 formal complaints. All have been dismissed.
Dr Rosewarne says that like pin-up girls in a workplace, these types of images in public places amount to sexual harassment and acceptance of them contradicts the community’s rejection of Sheikh Hilali’s comments. “How do people complain about comments like the sheikh has made in a culture that’s saturated with sexuality?”
However, Dr JaneMaree Maher, of the Centre for Women’s Studies and Gender Research at Monash University, says advertisements featuring sexy women can have positive effects, including empowering women.
“But it’s important to differentiate this from the notion of women as meat or women asking for it,” she says.
■ Complaints: 30
■ Action: None
■ Reason: Advertising Standards Bureau says the image does not breach its code because the woman is not posed sexually, the underwear is not provocative and there are no sexual overtones and no nudity.