We can and should challenge sexualised images, especially when placed in the way of children. Kids have enough problems growing up without being sexualised before they are ready. OBJECT recently challenged Southampton City Council to take action about sexualised images placed in the way of young children.
The first ad was a street poster for Revolution cocktail bar entitled ‘Pimp Your Pornstar’ a double entendre referring to the Pornstar cocktail, but also referencing the sex trades of porn and prostitution where women are commodified. The images are of conventionally attractive young women such as you might find on a porn or brothel site. It also advertised ‘Full Paddle’, a drink but also a reference to the practice of gaining sexual kick from violence to women.
The second image was a flyer posted through the letterboxes of homes in Southampton. Advertising Orange Rooms, it’s a porny image of a standard young, slim, blonde woman saying ‘I LIKE COCK (with ‘tails’ in hard-to-read script below). It’s not what you want your primary school kid seeing on your doormat. On the back were references which seemed to commodify women (‘unlimited porn stars’) which in fact referred to cocktails by that name.
We approached Southampton Council by emailing the Legal and Licensing departments and following up with a phone call and personal letter to the Chief Executive Officer. Organisations are more likely to take action if they know that multiple departments have been informed as they fear being considered unresponsive. It’s also worth looking at the organisation’s website, complimenting them on any initiatives they are taking that are relevant to the issue as this makes them more disposed to listen. A Killer Stat (like the NSPCC’s figure of 20% of children being sexually abused) can only help your case and provide ammunition for anyone you can get onto your side.
A couple of weeks later we received a positive response from Southampton Council, saying that they had taken action with the companies concerned and thanking us for drawing it to their attention. As businesses licenced to sell alcohol, these venues have a responsibility not to harm children and young people.
Well done Southampton Council!
If only all councils would take such positive action!
Letter to Legal and Licensing Departments:
Dear Southampton City Council
OBJECT is a national organisation concerned with how women and girls are portrayed in the media, particularly how we are sexualised as cannon fodder for male sexual appetites. OBJECT has been contacted by a Southampton resident about advertising by two businesses, Revolution and Orange Rooms (see images below). The resident who contacted us has already complained verbally, sadly with no effect.
Both businesses are in the vicinity of schools and churches eg the Edmund Kell Unitarian church, St Anne’s Catholic school and Southampton Arts Academy which runs children’s groups. Have these organisations and local residents been consulted about these unlicensed Sex Encounter Venues?
OBJECT has a track record in influencing organisations to mitigate their sexualised advertising. We successfully asked Marks and Spencer not to sell a cocktail called ‘Porn Star’ in a family store since this is entirely different from selling it in the adult environment of, say, a cocktail bar. We struggled to make our complaint via the normal channels because the M&S complaint system would not accept the word ‘porn’, which (particularly when shared via social media) rather made our point for us. You can see in any branch of M&S that the cocktail is now named ‘Passion Star Cocktail’. You could argue that this is a small point, but in terms of children being inappropriately confronted with sexualised advertising, little things can be big things.
Similarly, some years ago we asked Macmillan Cancer Research to remove an ad on bins at child’s eye level which portrayed a teen cancer sufferer being visited by his mates with some lads mags. Macmillan were clearly unaware of the highly misogynistic content of such magazines, but when we explained to them that these were not just harmless teenage fun, they took down the ads.
The first ad that concerns us is a poster for Revolution (premises address 28a Bedford Place S015 2DB. It’s a large street poster entitled ‘Pimp Your Pornstar’ which is clearly a double entendre referring ostensibly to the Pornstar cocktail, but on the surface apparently referring to the sex trades of porn and prostitution. The images are of conventionally attractive young women such as you might find on a porn or brothel site.
The sex trades exploit and harm women by exposing them to huge risks of STIs, rape, violence and murder. Internal injuries to the point of prolapse of the womb from too many thrusting penises are common. Psychological problems and harmful substance addictions are normalised. In a port city such as Southampton there will be a lot of prostitution.
While it is currently legal in the UK, there is considerable evidence that it is harmful, such that the most recent report of the All Party Parliamentary Group on prostitution recommended that the act of buying sex be criminalised here.
The Revolution ad goes on to offer ‘Full paddle £50’ a reference to the practice of gaining sexual pleasure from hitting women with a ‘paddle’, ie getting off from violence against women. Given the #MeToo campaign of recent years, current concern at the sexualised murders of young women such as Sarah Everard and a femicide rate of 2-3 women killed PER WEEK by violent partners, we must not minimise the effects of such casual references.
Revolution bills itself as a ‘cocktail bar’ but hints strongly at sexual encounters of a violent and exploitative kind. It says it is open till 3am and has no last entry time, suggesting brothel hours. It seems to be portraying itself visually and using innuendo as a Sexual Encounter Venue and as such is in need of a licence from your Licensing Department. Has an application been received? The premises should be closed down until such an application has been received, consulted on, properly considered and decided upon. Alternatively Revolution could mitigate its advertising.
While this advertising could be considered acceptable in an adult environment such as a licensed bar, we consider it unsuitable for a street ad where children will see it and ask questions. They may also feel intimidated and uncomfortable (see below) and an environment saturated with such sexual images and innuendo may have more serious harmful effects.
2. ORANGE ROOMS
The Orange Rooms ad is even more serious because it was posted through people’s letterboxes, ie it can be picked up from the floor by very young children. Again, the content is highly suggestive of the sex industry, again it is open till 3am, brothel hours. Although it claims to be a mere cocktail bar, the name ‘(colour) Rooms’ is a format common in the sex trade: compare the licensed Red Rooms Sex Encounter Venue in Camden, a ‘gentlemen’s club’ or ‘strip club’ where a licensing application for private booths was successfully challenged back in 2018.
The flier is highly sexualised, depicting a young conventionally attractive blonde woman with a porn-style unrealistically small waist holding a cocktail with the strap line ‘I love COCK’ with the remainder of the word, (ie ‘tails’) in much smaller writing so that ‘I love COCK’ leaps off the page at you. Imagine being the parent of a 6-year-old who can read just enough to sound out these short words and asks mummy or daddy what ‘cock’ is. This flier, posted through the letterboxes of private houses, will have the effect of sexualising children before their time, and this is harmful to their psychological well-being.
Other words on the page are ‘Two for £10’ which could be taken to refer to the cocktail or to the woman: remember that in tough times the price of a street encounter in survival prostitution sinks to that of a burger. On the reverse of the flier we have ‘Weekends just got BOTTOMless, again this is likely to attract the attention of small children who pick up the flier, and it features the names of the cocktails Pornstar and Sex on the Beach. How is mum or dad going to explain the words to a child: the sexualised image will already have been imprinted on her or his brain.
The website for Orange Rooms continues the suggestive theme: ‘Orange Rooms beckons, tending to your every need’ hinting at forms of satisfaction other than thirst, ie sexual, and offering ‘Mile High’, (a reference to the Mile High club where members are supposed to have had sex on a plane) and ‘unlimited Pornstars’ which officially refers to the cocktails but also to the commodification of women in the prostitution and porn, putting men in the superior position of chooser, judger, purchaser and women in the inferior position as commodity, resource, object, thing.
As with Revolution, we feel that as Orange Rooms wishes to present itself in this way, it should have applied for a licence as a Sex Encounter Venue and should be closed down until the necessary process has been gone through. Yet that flier can never be taken back from people’s doormats and children’s minds.
MORE SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS: SUICIDE, TRANSGENDER
It is impossible to prove specific cause and effect in the social sciences but there are some worrying trends at the moment that the sexualisation of young girls are thought to contribute to:
a) It is only young women who are sexualised in all these images. This encourages young men and boys to see females as products to be decorated and presented for their consumption and pleasure as if they were something to eat or drink. Such attitudes start to lead a young man along a path which may make him think it is acceptable to kill a woman who does not accede to his sexual desires. It would still be concerning, albeit less so if this sexualised content were more equally distributed across the two sexes.
b) There is evidence that young women are suffering severe mental health problems as a result of too-early sexualisation. Eating disorders are on the rise, leading often to long-term hospitalisation of otherwise physically healthy young women. Depression and anxiety disorders and even suicide are also on the increase. Social media of course exacerbates these trends, but one of the key root causes appears to be the demand to look and behave like the perfect sexualised woman, an image impossible for most of us even if we considered it desirable.
Although the group with the highest rate of suicide remains middle-aged men, it is significant that despite having a low number of deaths overall, rates among under-25s have generally increased in recent years, PARTICULARLY 10-24-YEAR-OLD FEMALES where the rate has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level in 2019.
c) In recent years we have seen a growth in numbers of children coming forward as ‘trans’, seeking hormonal and surgical treatments to alter their bodies towards that of the opposite sex. Rises of thousands of percent of girls coming forward in this way have been recorded, with the famous Keira Bell case indicating that many of them later feel let down by the system which funnelled them in this direction without proper investigation and caused permanent bodily harm (infertility, anorgasmia). It is suspected that the hypersexualisation of young girls is behind the wishes of so many of them to escape from being female and the way they see to do this is to transition, with all the concomitant problems it brings.
Tragically, every sexualised image thrust into the view of young girls may contribute cumulatively to the deterioration of their mental health and some of the extremely serious consequences described above. Businesses which on the face of it only seek to advertise may in fact be unwittingly or uncaringly causing serious harm to vulnerable young people.
Given that the damage caused by these ads is done and cannot be undone, we hope that the businesses concerned may wish to make a donation to a women’s organisation in order to make amends. We would suggest perhaps the Centre for Women’s Justice with whom we have no connection.
According to the NSPCC as many as 1 in 20 children experience child sexual abuse.
https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/statistics-briefings/child-sexual-abuse. Given the schools in the area a number of children who have to experience such abuse will be passing the Revolution poster, and its highly sexualised image may remind them of pornography they have been shown or asked to imitate, which would be a traumatic reminder of their abuse and might trigger a trauma response. Such children have difficulty concentrating on their lessons at the best of times, but after such vivid pictorial reminders may find it even harder to learn.
We will of course be publicising this case via our website and social media and look forward to your considered response to our complaints. Also, hopefully, to hearing of licence applications or even better, a commitment to desexualise the advertising of these companies.
Chair,OBJECT Women Not Sex Objects
Here is the response from Chief Executive Officer of Southampton City Council.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
Southampton City Council
Date: 22nd November 2021
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms Williams,
HARMFUL SEXUALISED ENVIRONMENT IN POLYGON AREA
Thank you for your telephone call to my office and letter of 4th November bringing this matter to my attention. The safety of all our residents and those visiting our City is a priority for those services delivering their statutory duties to protect the public. We do not support the portrayal of women in the manner that has been highlighted and as a local authority we have a role to play in trying to address these matters using what measures are available to us.
I note from your letter that you suggested that the premises concerned may need a Sexual Entertainment Venue licence. I enquired about this from the Licensing Service who have confirmed that neither of these premises would require them to need such a licence. This is because they do not provide the “relevant entertainment” as defined within the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 (Para 2A (2) of Schedule 3 ).The view therefore is that such an approach would not be appropriate.
I have been informed that both premises are licensed under the Licensing Act 2003 for the provision of regulated entertainment and the supply of alcohol by retail and as such are required and should be upholding the four licensing objectives which are:-
- Preventing crime and disorder
- Public safety
- Prevention of public nuisance
- Protection of children from harm
It has been determined that the leaflet from The Orange Rooms is not appropriate and may impact on the protection of children from the harm objective. The Licensing Team are now bringing your complaint to the attention of the licence holder and they will explain how this leaflet impacts on the licensing objectives. They will continue to monitor the premises.
The link to the objectives on the other promotions has been determined to not being sufficiently strong enough to support formal action under the Licensing Act, however the Council’s policy approach when it comes to A-board content on the public highway, is not to permit messaging that is offensive or of a sexual or political nature.
The positioning of the A boards at Revolution was determined to be restricting the footpath so the premises have been directed to move them. I have been advised and pleased to report that as part of this enforcement, this has now resulted in their taking down of the offensive posters outside and inside these premises.
Thank you again for bringing this to the attention of the Council and allowing us to take appropriate action.
Please do not hesitate to bring any further concerns to myself or indeed to the Licensing Service. email@example.com
Chief Executive Officer
Southampton City Council