Mossimo... what ever were you thinking?

Date

Alecia Simmonds

Mossimo window display snapped by a Collective Shout activist.

Mossimo window display snapped by a Collective Shout activist.

Scherri-Lee Biggs looks like she’s happily participating in some good old-fashioned female objectification. There she is, Australia’s Miss Universe, perched coyly on a chair with her fingers laced around her lurid red hooker heels. Her breasts are buoyant and her gaze is averted. Scherri is wearing more spray-tan than clothing.

But there’s something different about this image. What makes it stand out from the crushing banality of garden-variety sexist advertising is the fact that we’re looking at Scherri through a peep-hole. Scherri is a stripper more than a model, which turns you, dear reader, into a peeping voyeur.

But don’t worry! Scherri wants you to leer. She is fronting clothing brand Mossimo’s new advertising campaign called ‘Peep Show’ where people (in effect teenagers) are asked to learn from her example and create their own peep show.

Bravo Nicole. Bravo.

Bravo Nicole. Bravo.

Mossimo are asking people to submit candid photos to win prizes which they then doctor to look like they’ve been taken through a peep-hole. So it’s not only fine to leer at Scherri. You can leer at all nubile women. And if you happen to have cartoonesque cleavage or tanned and taut skin then why not offer yourself up for some gawking too?

Unsurprisingly, the Mossimo campaign has been a public relations disaster. Firstly, they didn’t anticipate the formidable challenge posed by two teenage entrants: Naughty Nicole and Kinky Katherine. Nicole gazes steadily into the camera with a sign that reads: ‘Mossimo Advertisement = sexist rubbish’. Katherine wears a t-shirt saying ‘Please prove your masculinity some other way.’ So far Nicole is winning the public vote with a landslide victory of 215 hits.

Nicole and Katherine were not the only ones unimpressed by Mossimo. The Advertising Standards Bureau is conducting an investigation on the basis of several complaints lodged last week. Melinda Tankard Reist has also been characteristically indignant.

Reist and her lobby group Collective Shout have argued that the advertisement normalizes people looking at women without their knowledge. Given that there are up to ten incidents of peeping and prying reported to police each week, with the victims invariably female, Reist’s complaints seem valid.

Mossimo’s marketing manager Leanne Wall has countered the accusations by asserting that the campaign was ‘just fun and light-hearted’. The word ‘peep show’ doesn’t necessarily refer to the sex industry, she said. Etymologically Wall may be right. Peep-show can refer to a wooden box containing a series of pictures seen on the streets of nineteenth century London. But something about casting a scantily clad Barbie against velvet drapes makes me question whether Mossimo were really trying to reference Charles Dickens.

Much as I hate to be a feminist killjoy, it seems that Mossimo are contributing to a culture where women are encouraged to see themselves and to be seen as unconditionally sexually available. You can gaze upon women in their most intimate moments and they always seem to be boundlessly happy about it.  Further, structuring the images like a peep show, with the woman’s eyes averted, creates a fantasy of non-consenting sexuality.

It is meant to look like we are gazing upon the women unawares. Yes, the competition is open to men too. But the use of Miss Universe and the overwhelmingly feminine response shows that this is really about women. The women not only appear as objects used to sell clothing, the entire setting – a peep show – is about the sale of women’s sexuality for male pleasure.

Mossimo’s advertisement is also an excellent example of how commodity culture can work with visual technologies to constrain women’s autonomy. Sex sells. And Mossimo certainly aren’t the first company to encourage women to see themselves as objects.

The birth of advertising post-World War One saw a proliferation of images of women being watched unawares or simply monitoring themselves. Selling women beauty products and fashion involved depicting them gazing in mirrors, being filmed by movie cameras or being watched and judged by their peers. An all-seeing male connoisseur came to reside in the heads of women. They were placed under his gaze and under his judgment.

These days, social media like Facebook has transformed this process from something that we imbibe through media, to something that we do willingly ourselves. Robotic sexualized poses are offered to a coterie of acquaintances. We make ourselves into self-transforming commodities in a marketplace of desire. Mossimo simply tapped into this.

Happily though not all women are buying it, or selling it for that matter. This is not a tale of an older feminist wringing her hands over the pornification of teenage girls, but an example of teenage girls confronting and challenging that culture. The same public outcry was witnessed over PETA’s recent commercial which normalised sexual violence against women, and over Proctor and Gamble’s advice website for teenage girls that doubled as an advertising space for hair-removal creams.

The question remains then as to why advertising companies keep getting it so wrong, particularly when they are constantly called to account by Advertising Bodies and consumers. We could hazard a guess that selling people products they don’t actually need requires playing on their desires, and actively shaping them. So women become strippers and men become peeping Toms, as advertisers work with suffocatingly narrow models of female and male identity.

But sexuality is so much more playful, joyful and daring than this. Ultimately, women’s pleasures and desires are infinite, smouldering, powerful forces that advertisers ignore at their own peril. Just take a look at Naughty Nicole.

15 comments

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the Mossimo display show both a scantilly-clad female AND a likewise clad male? And in at least one pose, the female seemingly in a dominant role? How is this then sexist, or demeaning only to women? Isn't the waxed, tanned and toned (young) male also being exploited, and depicted as "sexually available"? Feminist blinkers off, please!

    Commenter
    Muammar
    Location
    Melburbia
    Date and time
    February 27, 2012, 10:16AM
    • It's not a difficult question to answer. The reason why we keep on seeing sexist ads on television is because these advertising agencies and 'creative gurus' behind ads are sexist themselves.
      For me, this Mossimo advert is just as offensive (as in being sexist) as the moronic adverts for dishwashing liquid and laundry stain removers (always featuring women). I don't know who does the research and if they do, the stats are flawed, for Australians to keep on thinking that men don't wash dishes or clothes.
      I also find PETAs tactics, of using naked women, offensive and sexist. Just because they're PETA doesn't make the ad campaign less offensive.
      In a nutshell, the use of objectified women or stereotyped female roles to sell a product is backward and uncreative.

      Commenter
      Anna
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 27, 2012, 11:07AM
      • "Much as I hate to be a feminist killjoy, it seems that Mossimo are contributing to a culture where women are encouraged to see themselves and to be seen as unconditionally sexually available" - I agree with this 100% - The culture is very prevalent in Australia, especially among young women. And women are doing it to themselves and being indignant, when men respond.

        In the past two weeks, SMH have printed many opinion articles along the lines of "Should men look?" You should see the outrage, when any man (including me) suggested, that women are advertising their availability by dressing provocatively. Sure, there are absolute bogans who cross the line from appreciating to leering, to even harassing, but women need to understand that whether they believe they are advertising or not, if they dress provocatively, they are advertising their sexual availability - most men will understand it's just fashion, and treat them respectfully, but many will take them at face value. And at the risk of sounding like a certain Sheik... I find it hard to entirely blame the cat.

        Commenter
        Ken
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 27, 2012, 12:15PM
        • Ken - I have to agree and I am a female. At the risk of sounding like a prude and old fashioned I am constantly amazed at the sights I see in the CBD where young office workers are "Advertising" just about everything they have available and then perhaps wonder why their male co workers see them as objects or someone not to be taken seriously. There are many ways to be feminine and even advertise your sexuality without being blatant about it. When I see a young girl in her 20s going to work in a T Shirt which is so low cut you can view whatever you want I have to question why my generation fought so hard to be taken seriously and not to be objectified. I would even go as far as to say that a T Shirt is not suitable wear for work. While I appreciate young girls should be able to wear what they want and not be judged for it the reality is that if you wear clothes to the office which are simply not suitable for a professional office environment you won't be taken seriously and run the very real risk of something far worse. The same way if I meet a salesman (male) who can't take the time to iron his shirt or wear a tie if a woman does not dress correctly for the situation then she too will not be taken seriously, that's not sexist it is just reality.

          Commenter
          Anne
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          February 27, 2012, 5:16PM
      • Seriously - Naughty Nic a teenager?? More like early to mid thirties surely! Beside the point I know, but this error was bugging me. Nic and Reist & the rest of the Collective Shout team need to get off their highhorses. I know for a fact that they advocate and are involved in grafitting over Sydney City advertising boards spraying things like - "If your product was any good - you wouldn't need sexism to sell it" - More like if your cause is that worth fighting for, do it with some dignity & grace ( something that appraently everyone lacks but you), instead of making our city look ugly!" But these people can not be reasoned with, they see no other point or opinion but theirs.

        Commenter
        keiar
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        February 27, 2012, 1:30PM
        • IT'S AN ADVERT FOR UNDERWEAR....IT WILL ALWAYS LOOK NAUGHTY......seriously????????

          just jeans did the same recently...as they really are called JUST JEANS for a reason....

          Commenter
          underwear wearer
          Location
          melbourne docklands
          Date and time
          February 27, 2012, 2:40PM
          • I'm not sure that it's "sexist", as I find it similarly degrading towards men for different reasons, but it's certainly the wrong approach.

            I don't want to objectise women but sometimes find it hard not too....I suspect most women would prefer not to "sell out" to a sex culture that objectises, but similarly find it difficult not too at times.

            Commenter
            LukeR
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            February 27, 2012, 3:25PM
            • People will always enjoy looking at youth and beauty of both sexes (just ask Germaine), and the young and beautiful of both sexes will always enjoy being looked at. Advertisers will always exploit this.

              Commenter
              ASD
              Date and time
              February 27, 2012, 3:35PM
              • 's like that bookshop in Portlandia.

                Commenter
                Narkor
                Date and time
                February 27, 2012, 3:50PM
                • I first came across "Naughty Nicole" on Facebook, with an old school friend posting it up and asking all to support here. Wondering what all the fuss was about, I took a look.

                  Whilst the competition may be degrading, poor taste, a little bit sleazy, or whatever else you might think of it, if you take a look at the entrants many of them are male - currently 18 pages of entrants, 7 showing the men, 11 women.

                  So frankly, how is it sexist? If you think that this is bad for women, it's just as bad for the men involved - equally as bad.

                  The competition might be many things, but it's not sexist.

                  Commenter
                  Naomi
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  February 27, 2012, 3:54PM

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