Everyday Misogyny: What Air New Zealand Doesn’t Understand

13

21 May 2014 by thaliakr

The story starts here, if you want to read the three posts in order.

Here’s the thing: we’re not saying no one should ever wear a bikini, nor that my toddler should never see anyone in one.

We’re saying that using women wearing bikinis and prancing (I checked the dictionary definition to be sure that was a fair term) on a beach to sell flights to the Cook Islands is an example of sexual objectification, and contributes to a sexist world where women are treated more poorly than men in most spheres of life.

That’s what many of us want to protect children (and adults!) from: media objectification and everyday misogyny, not boobs.

And the Advertising Standards Authority Code of Ethics seems to be on my side here:

Basic Principle 5 – Advertisements should not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading of any individual or group of people in society to promote the sale of products or services. In particular people should not be portrayed in a manner which uses sexual appeal simply to draw attention to an unrelated product.

Alas, the ASA decided it didn’t have jurisdiction to rule on the safety video.

The #sexisminparadise Story So Far

[Skip to the next heading if you aren’t too interested in arguments about whether the video is an advertisement and should comply with the Advertising Code of Ethics.]

I made a formal complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, arguing that the safety video wasn’t just there to get us to buckle our seatbelts, but was also there to advertise both Air New Zealand and Sports Illustrated.

After all, Air New Zealand released the video on YouTube and is proud that millions have seen it there. And they said in their original press release on the video:

 The airline has partnered with Sports Illustrated’s iconic Swimsuit franchise to produce Safety in Paradise, which was shot in the idyllic Cook Islands and features some of the biggest names in modelling, including Chrissy Teigen, Ariel Meredith, Hannah Davis and Jessica Gomes.

Safety in Paradise will be released on 12 February NZ time to coincide with the start of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 50th anniversary global celebrations.

Air New Zealand and Sports Illustrated have today released a preview of the video, which the airline expects to not only engage customers more than ever in core safety messages but drive passenger traffic on its Auckland-Rarotonga and Los Angeles-Rarotonga services in 2014.

The video can be viewed here.

Air New Zealand Head of Global Brand Development Jodi Williams says working with the Sports Illustrated franchise, which reaches more than 70 million people worldwide, was a phenomenal opportunity to further lift the airline’s brand on the global stage and to promote a key Pacific Island destination the airline has been flying to for more than 40 years.

“Sports Illustrated Swimsuit has a massive worldwide television, online and print campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary and we’re incredibly excited to feature in that activity. The magazine alone has more than 61 million readers annually and the safety video shoot with Air New Zealand will feature in the special anniversary edition. This is money can’t buy global attention focused on a key destination and our airline,” says Ms Williams.

Last week I received a press-embargoed copy of the ASA’s Decision. A minority of the Complaints Board agreed with me that the video was an advertisement, but since a majority thought it was not, the Board ruled that the complaint fell outside its jurisdiction:

The Complaints Board considered whether the item fell within its jurisdiction. It noted that the item could be considered to have “imparted knowledge” under the definition of an advertisement in the Advertising Codes of Practice, however i noted it appeared in the context of a safety briefing video containing compulsory information for passengers on board an aeroplane, and therefore fell outside of its jurisdiction.

A minority of the Complaints Board disagreed. In its view the item contained promotional statements about the Air New Zealand Service to the Cook Islands and Sports Illustrated Magazine. The minority of the Complaints Board said that while the item was a compulsory instructional safety video seen on an aircraft, it was also available through Youtube clearly with promotional intent and therefore could be considered an advertisement for the purposes of the Advertising Codes and falling within the Advertising Standards Complaints Board’s jurisdiction.

The Complaints Board therefore didn’t reach any decision on whether the safety video breached the Code of Ethics.

The good news (sort of): Air New Zealand’s defence to my complaint is part of the published decision. And it’s pretty revealing reading.

What Air New Zealand Doesn’t Understand

The writer did an effective job of arguing that the ASA shouldn’t have jurisdiction over its safety briefings, using a ‘where will it end?’ argument: should the ASA be able to make judgements about, say, warranty cards or live-action safety briefings done by flight attendants?

But the rest of the defence is, an unsophisticated piece of argument and an exercise in (repeatedly) missing the point.

I’ll include Air New Zealand’s entire response at the bottom, so you can judge for yourself.

The main problem is that whenever Air New Zealand read my arguments about sexual objectification of women, they interpreted them as expressions of social conservatism, as if I had asked for all the actors to wear burqas:

The complaint’s key objection is that she doesn’t wish to expose her child to actors in bikinis.  In our view that is an extremely conservative view that is not widespread or representative of the community at large.  There is nothing in this video that a child wouldn’t see at a visit to a popular beach during the summer months.

But of course the many people objecting to this video are not trying to stop Christie Brinkley – or my neighbour at the beach – wearing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. we’re trying to stop a major company deciding to use Christie’s body to sell commercial flights.

Air New Zealand’s production of this video, and response to the complaint, reveals that they really have no clue about important social ideas like sexual objectification of women. Surely someone at their company has done a BA?

Using women’s bodies to sell things that are nothing to do with women’s bodies sends the message that the point of women is to give pleasure to other people with their bodies.

On the contrary, women’s bodies do not exist to sell things or provide pleasure for millions of onlookers. They are there to house women, get them from place to place, provide the energy to change the world for the better, help them to live for three score years and ten or so.

Women’s arms exist to hug friends, not hold hand-mirrors while an oxygen mask drops from the sky. Women’s breasts exist to keep them company, feed children, give pleasure to themselves and partners – any number of things – but not to lure the lucrative American market to pay Air New Zealand money to fly to the Cook Islands, nor to give a little sexual hit to a business traveller flying from Christchurch to Auckland for the day.

When we repeatedly objectify women, lots of bad stuff follows.

Imagine being a flight attendant standing next to screens filled with swimsuit models. Don’t you think your sense of professionalism and perhaps even personal safety would be undermined by the knowledge that your customers have just been encouraged to look at models’ bodies in a sexual way while you pointed out the exits?

Having women with unusually thin and ‘perfect’ bodies all over the safety video has further implications for how you might be feeling, standing in front of everyone. Is everyone comparing you to these ‘ideals’? Should you spend a bit more money or time on beauty treatments this week? Should you join a gym, do some more hair removal, buy some more make-up? What else should be in your ‘third shift‘ that men are not pressured to do?

This is bad for everyone. If women are spending hours a day on unimportant activity to meet arbitrary beauty standards, what are they not doing with that time? As Sarah Silverman says:

Mother Teresa Sarah Silverman | Sacraparental.com

The link between sexual objectification and sexual violence is of course much more concerning. If men are constantly shown material that presents women as sexual objects, existing for the pleasure of others (usually men), that makes it harder for them to fight through rape culture to approach women in healthy ways.

You might remember Dr Nicola Gavey connecting the dots between pornography and sexual violence when a group of young rapists was in the news last year:

Pornography is a mixed bag, but the everyday kind of mainstream pornography that many young men now regularly consume glorifies hostility towards women. Young women are props for male sexual pleasure – participating as second class human beings whose sole purpose is the consumer’s enjoyment. It is essential as part of our efforts to prevent sexual violence that we start talking about pornography, it portrayals of women and men and sex. And asking questions about the ethics of celebrating male sexual domination and female submission and aggression towards women in the name of sexual pleasure.

[Read more at Sexual Politics Now, a site dedicated to asking questions about pornography.]

Air New Zealand’s video isn’t pornography, and I’m not suggesting that it is. But as I said in my original post (and my complaint), things don’t need to be terrible before we object. The video is part of a cohort of media activity that sends the message that women are sexual objects rather than people.

There are plenty of worse examples, but the reason many of us are so exercised about this one is its pervasiveness. It’s compulsory to watch. It’s shown to children. It’s produced by our national, government-owned airline. They should know better.

But they really don’t know better

The Advertising Standards Authority Decision has been officially released and is supposed to be on the ASA website but they’re having technical trouble and it hasn’t been uploaded yet.

The published Decision includes the judgement of the Complaints Board (which I’ve excerpted above), the complaint from me (which you can read here), the provisions of the Code the ASA sent to Air New Zealand, and Air New Zealand’s official response to the complaint.

Since it’s not available online yet, I’m reproducing here the parts of the Code that the ASA highlighted, and all of Air New Zealand’s response.

[Update: The decision is now on the ASA website here.]

The take-home message I’d love Air New Zealand to get: there is stuff you don’t understand about women or social responsibility, and you should learn.

Air New Zealand’s Response

Code of Ethics

Basic Principle 4: All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.

Rule 5: Offensiveness – Advertisements should not contain anything which in the light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence taking into account the context, medium, audience and product (including services).

Code for People in Advertising

Basic Principle 3Advertisements should not portray people in a manner which taking into account generally prevailing community standards, is reasonably likely to cause serious or widespread offence on the grounds of their gender; race; colour; ethnic or national origin; age; cultural, religious, political or ethical belief; sexual orientation; marital status; family status; education; disability; occupational or employment status.

Basic Principle 5 – Advertisements should not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading of any individual or group of people in society to promote the sale of products or services. In particular people should not be portrayed in a manner which uses sexual appeal simply to draw attention to an unrelated product. Children must not be portrayed in a manner which treats them as objects of sexual appeal.

Basic Principle 6 – Humour and satire are natural and accepted features of the relationship between individuals and groups within the community. Humorous and satirical treatment of people and groups of people is acceptable, provided that, taking into account generally prevailing community standards, the portrayal is not likely to cause serious or widespread offence, hostility, contempt, abuse or ridicule

Code for Advertising to Children

Principle 1 – Advertisements should be prepared with and observe a high standard of social responsibility.

Guideline 1(h) – Advertisements should not include sexual imagery and should not state or imply that children are sexual beings and /or that ownership or enjoyment of a product will enhance their sexuality

Guideline 1(i) – Advertisements should not include images that are degrading to any individual or group.

RESPONSE FROM ADVERTISER, AIR NEW ZEALAND

We refer to your letters dated 1 April.

I am authorised to respond to your letters.

Your letters raise two separate issues relating to the recent “Safety in Paradise” in-flight safety video (the “Safety Video”).

The first issue relates to the Advertising Standard’s Authority’s (the “ASA”) jurisdiction over Air New Zealand in-flight safety videos generally.  The second issue is whether the Safety Video is in breach of any of the Advertising Codes of Practice.

Jurisdiction

It is our view that in-flight safety videos are not “advertisements” in a general sense.  There is no attempt to persuade the viewer to purchase a service or a product.  The purpose of all of our in-flight safety videos is to encourage passengers to take notice of our in-flight safety messages.

We note that the ASA’s definition of “advertisement” is particularly broad and includes:

“…advertising which promotes the interest of any person, product or service, imparts information, educates, or advocates an idea, belief, political viewpoint of opportunity”.

Unfortunately, that definition uses the word “advertising” itself without actually clarifying what “advertising” means. Various dictionary references to “advertising” refer generally to the business of persuading persons to buy products or services[1].

In the absence of any attempt to persuade a consumer to purchase a product or service, the ASA’s definition of “Advertising” would inadvertently extend to every publication by a retailer.  It wouldn’t seem like a natural fit for the ASA to consider that it ought to have jurisdiction over a set of instructions, a warranty card or safety warnings that might accompany a product or service by virtue of the ASA’s own definition of “advertisement”.  Likewise, we don’t believe that the ASA ought to have jurisdiction over Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety briefings (which in this instance happen to be communicated by video).

We’d also mention that the Civil Aviation Authority (“CAA”) requires all persons operating an aircraft carrying passengers to provide a passenger briefing.  The particular requirements of this safety briefing are set out under the Civil Aviation Rules – Part 91 (Rule 91.211 – Passenger briefing)[2] and are prescriptive.

We’d also point out that if the ASA considers that it does have jurisdiction over in-flight safety briefings that happen to be communicated by video, then there would be no impediment to the ASA also assuming jurisdiction over all communications between Air NZ and its passengers, including our conditions of carriage, our in flight safety procedure cards (also regulated by the CAA) and even perhaps information provided verbally by in flight staff to passengers.

Advertising Standards Codes

We have attached a YouTube™ link to the Safety Video below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQDip9V49U0

We have reviewed the original complaint and the Advertising Codes that the ASA considers are at issue as set out in the ASA’s letters.  The original complaint itself is difficult to respond to and although the complainant has gone to some trouble to refer to the Advertising Standards Codes, her views are highly personal and occasionally difficult to follow.

Rather than reply to each of the issues that the complainant raises, we feel it would be more expedient to respond to the Advertising Standards Codes that the ASA has mentioned as being in the letters.

Code of Ethics – Basic Principle 4

All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.

The complainant alleges that there ought to be a higher threshold of “social responsibility” given that the safety messages are compulsory viewing.  Air New Zealand takes safety extremely seriously and have long engaged, fun, witty and engaging safety videos to increase customer uptake of the safety messages.  Simply because the complainant disagrees with the type of actor in this video, it doesn’t make it socially irresponsible

The complainant also makes the nonsensical allegation that Air New Zealand isn’t socially responsible because it didn’t consider the views of those who:

“struggle with addiction to pornography or sexual trouble…who would just rather not be sexually aroused in the company of strangers…it doesn’t seem kind or socially responsible to show them lots of pretty breasts…”

We don’t intend to respond to that allegation.

Code of Ethics – Rule 5

Offensiveness – Advertisements should not contain anything which in the light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence…

The Safety Video has been viewed on YouTube™ in excess of 4.5 million times.   CNBC news has conducted an online poll on “Do you think the Air New Zealand video is sexist?”  90% of the 3,746 respondents replied “NO”[3].

It appears that the complainant’s real issue is best described in their statement “Sports Illustrated is not a socially responsible product”.  While the complainant is entitled to that view, it is hardly representative of the subscribers and readership of a magazine (each numbered in their millions) that has recently enjoyed its 50th year of publication.

We don’t agree that there is anything offensive in the Safety Video, certainly not to the standard in the Code of Ethics.

Code for People in Advertising – Basic Principle 3

Advertisements should not portray people in a manner which, taking into account generally prevailing community standards, is reasonably likely to cause serious or widespread offence on the grounds of their gender, race, colour…

There are three separate “groups” of actors in this Safety Video: the Swimsuit models; local Cook Islanders; and Air New Zealand flight crew.  Each of whom appear in the video in beach attire or swimsuits that are natural given the circumstances.  We note that the complainant has only focused on the swimsuit models as though there is something offensive about women being included in the Safety Video as opposed to the other two groups of actors.

We seriously doubt whether “prevailing community standards” mean that the reasonable person would be offended by any of those groups wearing beach attire (including bikinis) in a relaxed beachside location.

Cook Islanders, Swimsuit models and Air NZ staff featuring in the Safety Video are all treated respectfully.

Code for People in Advertising – Basic Principle 5

Advertisements should not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading of any individual or group of people in society to promote the sale of products or services.  In particular people should not be portrayed in a manner which uses sexual imagery to draw attention to an unrelated product.  Children must not be portrayed in a manner which treats them as objects of sexual appeal.

We’ve made the point above that this Safety Video does not promote the sale of products or services.

The Cook Island theme has been promoted throughout the Safety Video by using Cook Island locals and scenery.  In one shot, Cook Island men are seen paddling a canoe in traditional dress with bare torsos.  There appears to be no suggestion on the part of the complainant that Air NZ is somehow objectifying, exploiting or degrading those individuals, even though they appear in a similar state of dress as the swimsuit models.

Air New Zealand conducted initial testing with customers and members of our staff prior to release and the issue of “exploitation” or “degradation” of women was not flagged as a concern.  We suspect that this is partly due to our regular advertisements of tropical or beachside destinations frequently featuring people in normal beachwear enjoying the sun and surf.  It is only natural, given the Pacific Island setting of this Safety Video that the participants are dressed in beach / pool side attire.

Air NZ also took a great deal of care in filming this content.  It has been shot in a tasteful way and the team producing the video was led by women.  We were also minded that we needed to be sensitive to our more conservative markets in Japan and China.  We have had no complaints from either of those markets.

In sequences where attention was required to a particular part of the body (for example the sequence where we demonstrate how to fasten the seat-belt across your lap) the swimsuit model wore clothing in addition to a swimsuit.

At no point in the video is particular or unnecessary attention focussed on a part of any female body in a gratuitous or lecherous way.

If the “sexual imagery” that is at question here is the occasional shot of an actor in a bikini on a beach, then that would call into question any seaside image used in any publication where a woman might appear in a swimming costume.  We find it a stretch that any reasonable person would consider beach attire at a beach side setting “sexual”.

Code for People Advertising – Basic Principle 6

Humour and satire are natural and accepted features of the relationship between individuals and groups within the community.  Humorous and satirical treatment of people and groups of people is acceptable, provided that, taking into account generally prevailing community standard, the portrayal is not likely to cause serious or widespread offence, hostility, contempt, abuse or ridicule.

This doesn’t appear to be the subject of the original complaint in any way.  We’re unclear as to why the ASA has asked us to respond to this particular section of the Advertising Code.

While there is a small amount of humour in Safety Video we don’t believe that there are any grounds to allege that this principle has been breached.

Code for Advertising to Children – Principle 1

Advertisements should be prepared with and observe a high standard of social responsibility.

This is the same language used for the Code of Ethics – Basic Principle 4.  Our response to that is above.

Code for Advertising to Children – Principle 1 – Guideline 1(h)

Advertisements should not include sexual imagery and should not state or imply that children are sexual beings and / or that ownership or enjoyment of a product will enhance their sexuality.

This is the same or very similar language used in Code for People in Advertising – Basic Principle 5.  We consider that we have responded in full on this subject.

We don’t believe that the complainant has made any allegation that we have in anyway described a child as a sexual being – so feel it is unnecessary to engage on that point.  Nor has there been a suggestion that we are in anyway suggesting that a product will enhance any child’s sexuality.

We note that in one of your letters you identified concerns of the complainant that because of the presence of a child in the video, children on the flight are encouraged to watch.  This doesn’t appear to be at issue under any of the Codes.  In any event it is our hope that everyone on the flight watches and observes the messages in the Safety Video.

The complainant’s objection appears to be more related to whether society ought to prevent children from viewing models in swimsuits (which the complainant appears to consider “sexual imagery”).

Code for Advertising to Children – Principle 1 – Guideline 1(i)

Advertisements should not include images that are degrading to any individual or group.

Again, we consider this very similar to the test in Code for People in Advertising – Basic Principle 5 which we have responded to in full above.

Conclusion

We don’t believe that the ASA has any jurisdiction to regulate our in flight safety videos or any other communications that we have with regard to safety messages or in-flight communications.

Our inflight safety videos are a safety tool, they are not advertisements as they do not attempt in any way to persuade a consumer to purchase a product or service.  The question then is whether Air New Zealand is entitled to overlay a theme, or inject some brand identification into in-flight safety videos.  In our view, we are and should be free to do so without interference.

Whether or not the ASA shares that view, Air New Zealand takes social responsibility very seriously. We deny that there has been any abdication of our social responsibility, or transgression of any of the Advertising Codes because actors in beach/poolside attire communicate our safety message.

The complaint’s key objection is that she doesn’t wish to expose her child to actors in bikinis.  In our view that is an extremely conservative view that is not widespread or representative of the community at large.  There is nothing in this video that a child wouldn’t see at a visit to a popular beach during the summer months.

[1] http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/advertising?q=Advertising

[2] See page 41 of the CAA – General Operating and Flight Rules

http://www.caa.govt.nz/rules/Rule_Consolidations/Part_091_Consolidation.pdf

[3] http://www.cnbc.com/id/101415104

 

So there you go. My complaints are ‘nonsensical’ and ‘extremely conservative’. If you disagree, you might like to let them know.

You can keep up with Sacraparental via Facebook for daily snippets, Twitter for general ranting and raving and Pinterest for all sorts, including a Gender Politics board.

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13 thoughts on “Everyday Misogyny: What Air New Zealand Doesn’t Understand

  1. Christina says:

    So if this is not advertising so cannot by objected to via that route, I wonder if we could bring a sexual harrassment case against AirNZ for forcing us to watch it against our will? Although that still relies on the argument of objectification that they seem to have completely missed the point on. I was at a panel discussion about gender at the Auckland Writers Festival this weekend and this came up – Dr Judy McGregor (past Human Rights Commissioner) said she looked away from this safety video on a flight and was asked by an attendant to watch!

  2. Michelle says:

    Thursday I flew from Queenstown to Auckland on Air NZ and was so embarrassed by the latest safety video . Sitting in the front row ,in a row of 3 alongside my husband (of 32 years ) and another aged gentleman aged 60+ both were also very embarrassed and neither watched this ” saftey video ” . Behind me there were sniggers and giggles from behind , a clear indication to me that others were uncomfortable with this.
    It is disappointing to see the response by air nz is to trivialise and behave in a dismissive way to a complaint by customers , investors and travellers who are ” encouraged to watch ” there safety video . This is not smart funny or clever and I expect to be able to board and fly without being insulted when i have paid to have a service provided yet have been made to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. This video must be removed from Air NZ planes .

  3. Spaghettican says:

    I think you’ve done a great job of making the complaint – I’m rather glad I haven’t had to fly AirNZ while this video is showing as I think I’d feel very uncomfortable watching it (I haven’t seen the whole briefing but did see a ‘promo’ that was shown on the TV1 News). However, I do think that AirNZ are probably right in saying the clip is not an advertisment as the primary purpose of it is to be used as a Safety Briefing video. I had a quick read through pages 41 & 42 of the ‘CAA – General Operating and Flight Rules’ and noted that there are no guidelines around appropriate content for Safety Briefings (video or otherwise). I’m guessing the guidelines were written some years ago, and wondered then, if AirNZ had it’s own guidelines around content used in these briefings? And if not, why not? Although they obviously have some dubious ideas on what is/isn’t appropriate, I think, that as our so-called National carrier, they should carry some responsibilty for ensuring these Safety Briefings are appropriate for All passengers (young and old, male and female).

    I guess it could be time to get creative …. maybe write up a standard pamphlet that can be given to a flight attendant at the end of the flight stating that the video made you (the passenger) feel uncomfortable or that you felt it was not appropriate for it’s purpose. Or, start an online petition to get AirNZ to stop using the video. Any other thoughts?

    It’s also interesting that the CAA rules don’t say anything about having to ‘watch’ a video – most staff stand in the aisles and demonstrate the key requirements while the video is playing, so watching them rather than the video means you are still complying with the rules (!)

    • Good research, Katy.

      The rules don’t say you have to watch, but they do require the briefing to include a statement that passengers have to comply with all crew instructions. And the crew definitely still say ‘please watch even if you are a frequent flier’ etc.

      I’m still dubious about it not being an ad – it has been deliberately and proudly released on Youtube and was created for the dual purpose of a) safety briefing and b) increasing traffic on the LA-Cooks route – according to their own press release.

      Rule 91.211(b)(4): file:///Users/tkr/Downloads/Part_091_Consolidation.pdf

      Pamphlet is a good idea! Anyone want to do the design?

      Someone on Twitter suggested we all dramatically put on eyemasks during the briefing.

  4. Michelle says:

    Just cancelled 2 flights over the next 2 months ! Will be an using an alternate airline because I do have a choice and that’s ,not to be insulted , embarrassed and encouraged to watch porn .SHAME on you Air NZ .

    • Oh well done. I’ve just chosen Jetstar for the first time in a while. (Infuriating booking process, but presumably no compulsory objectification of women inflight).

  5. […] Update: I’ve been getting my complain on! For my early correspondence with Air New Zealand and the Advertising Standards Authority, click through to this update, and for Air New Zealand’s flabbergasting response to my ASA complaint, head here. […]

  6. Rational77 says:

    I would like to see you rage at Dan Carter or any other companies using men for objectification in advertisement!!

    Classic feminist double standard here..

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