15 March 2019

Minister threatens action against Geocon as calls intensify for crackdown on sexist ads

| Ian Bushnell
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The WOVA billboard in Woden which was the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

Canberra property giant Geocon’s contentious advertising has sparked a UnionsACT petition calling on the ACT Government to crack down on companies using imagery that objectifies and degrades women to sell their products.

The Government has responded, with Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman saying the Government has written to the Advertising Standards Bureau and in the absence of action by the industry itself, exploring options to improve standards and prevent this sexist advertising.

“We are committed to gender equality and continuing initiatives to drive change in our community that support equality and fairness. We have made it clear to Geocon on a number of occasions that its advertising doesn’t meet community expectations and we don’t condone it,” he said.

“It is widely acknowledged that there is a strong connection between how girls and women are portrayed in society, to gender based violence, harassment and sexual assault. Along with politicians and the government, business and community leaders have an important role to play in driving cultural change on this issue, particularly local businesses like Geocon.”

The petition comes after a snap rally on International Women’s Day protesting against Geocon’s advertising for its high-rise apartment developments that features images of scantily clad and pouting women and provocative names such as Tryst.

Ironically, the Geocon Sales Centre hosted an International Women’s Day event with female media figures on a panel talking about their property journeys.

The company also drew gasps with the recent over-the-top launch of its Envie development opposite Glebe Park which featured gold painted bodies of male and female models. In 2016, topless women handed out drinks to workers on one of Geocon’s building sites in Belconnen.

UnionsACT was set to meet with Geocon last week but the company cancelled at the last minute.

But it has written to Geocon calling on them to voluntarily remove the sexist billboards advertising the Tryst and WOVA developments, and to Mr Gentleman, arguing that sexist advertising that objectifies or disrespects women is linked to increased prevalence of gendered violence and sexual harassment.

One of the images used in the Tryst campaign.

It wants the ACT Government to introduce restrictions on degrading and sexist advertising that violates community expectations.

Emma Turner, convenor of the UnionsACT Women’s Committee which is leading the campaign, said the Canberra community overwhelmingly rejected the ”sexist objectification of women’s bodies that corporations like Geocon are smothering the ACT with”.

“The fact that large corporations like Geocon insist on ever more sexist ads across the ACT gives us a clear insight into their corporate culture: they just don’t care about respecting women,” she said.

“Widespread use of images that sexualise and objectify women in ads undermines efforts to promote gender equality and are highly problematic for the prevention of family violence and sexual harassment against women.

“If companies like Geocon won’t act responsibly, the Government needs to step in.”

UnionsACT Secretary Alex White said that while many union members were Geocon employees, many of them were disgusted by the sexist actions of the management.

He said unions were not being critical of the women involved in the ads but the decisions by corporate executives to objectify women and publish sexist advertising.

“This isn’t about Geocon, Geocon is just the most blatant example in Canberra but there are lots of other companies and corporations that advertise in Canberra that objectify and degrade women,” Mr White said.

“The fact is Geocon puts massive ads up on their billboards on their development sites that are sexist.”

The infamous launch of Envie. Photo: Facebook.

Asked whether Geocon cared what anyone thought, Mr White said the lack of respect for women was the problem and ‘they’re not going to voluntarily adhere to community standards’.

“Advertising in public is a privilege that the community gives to corporations, they don’t have a right to put up visual pollution and it is a privilege that is granted by the community according to community standards, and those standards are being violated by companies like Geocon and others with their advertising,” he said.

“If the law isn’t sufficient to prevent them publishing sexist ads then the laws need to change.”

Mr White said the campaign was about ensuring community standards were upheld and the ACT Government upheld those standards.

“Cities around the world have introduced restrictions on advertising that demeans and degrades women, and it’s time for Canberra to do likewise,” he said.


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Is it objectification if the object is directed to a non binary audience rather than the classical male-female socio-cultural norms that has categorised Western English society until the mid 2000’s?

HiddenDragon6:40 pm 17 Mar 19

Beyond questions of taste, or lack of it, in some of the current property marketing, it has a whiff of Last Days of Rome/carpe diem about it – we know what’s happening in markets elsewhere, and there are practical limits to Canberra exceptionalism, so fate may sort this one out.

In the meantime, it would be nice to think that those in positions of authority and influence are bringing at least as much (preferably somewhat more) energy and zeal to the eternal question of building standards as they are to advertising standards.

Sexy is OK, no prob, but those billboards in Civic include photos that look like “Roey” situations with half-unconscious women.

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