The distasteful use of women’s body parts to sell an item or to promote something only serves to further objectify women in society, says Prema Devaraj.
Firefly’s recent advertisement promoting discounted tickets on their Facebook page was a shocker! Not because of the cheap fares but because of the sexist advertising.
The two advertisements have since been taken down, and Firefly have issued an apology.
But really, what is one to say? Looking at these advertisements one would have to ask what exactly is being sold or on offer? What has the price of tickets got to do with a stewardess’ buttocks? Would fare discounts have been advertised using a male flight steward or pilot’s buttocks? Would “come grab it real fast” have been used?
In this day and age, it is unbelievable that a company would resort to such advertising. What does it say about the advertising company which created these advertisements?
Quiet conversations with some Firefly staff (sales, ground crew and flight stewardesses) in both Penang and Subang airports soon after the advertisements came up online revealed that they were apparently not in the know about the advertisement design and had only seen it when it went online.
Many were perturbed by what they saw, and some said that customers had complained. Some apologised profusely. Others were embarrassed by the advertisements. “Tidak elok”, “It’s not right”, “What can we do?”, “I totally disagree with it” were some of the comments made.
By commissioning and agreeing to these advertisements, both the Firefly nanagement and their marketing team have undermined the morale of some of their staff and have placed their female staff at risk of sexual harassment (ie, bottom grabbing, comments about their bottoms, and so on) by reducing them to nothing more than sex objects.
Is this really how Firefly management and their marketing team view their staff? All these adverts do is continue to perpetuate a wider denigration of women.
Time and again, people have condemned sexist advertisements. The distasteful use of women’s body parts to sell an item or to promote something only serves to further objectify women in society. It reinforces stereotypes about women, promotes a particular image of women, and has an impact on how women are portrayed and treated.
Furthermore, sexist advertising is in direct contradiction to our government’s commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, including their commitment to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).
A quick search reveals that Malaysia has certain standards and measures in place meant to curb such advertising.
For example, among the principles listed in the Malaysian Code of Advertising Practice are that
- advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful
- advertisements must not identify or typecast each particular racial group or sex with vocations, traditional values and backgrounds
- advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
The Malaysian Multimedia and Content Code (MCMC) (Part 3 Advertisements, Section 7.0 The Use of People in Advertising) states with regards to women in advertisements that:
- advertisements must not project women as an object for sex or be shown to merely satisfy men’s desire and satisfaction and
- advertisements must portray positive images of women.
Malaysia apparently also has an Advertising Standards Advisory (ASA) established in 1977 as a self-regulatory system set up by the industry to promote and enforce high ethical standards in advertisements.
Additionally, the ASA is meant to investigate complaints, identify and resolve problems to ensure, among other things, that the system operates in the public interest. Among the members of the ASA are the Malaysian Advertisers Association, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents, Malaysia and Media Specialists Association.
Firefly are not the first nor the only company to have used sexist advertising. It is time that we see the implementation of the standards and principles stated above, as well as more stringent self-regulation by advertisers and advertising agencies.
The ASA and MCMC complaints bureau should investigate these advertisements and take action against advertising companies which produce sexist advertisements.
To advertising agencies that continue to create sexist advertisements and to Firefly and other entities that choose to use sexist advertisements, the message is simply this:
Women are your grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and nieces. Women are your friends. Women are your colleagues or sometimes your bosses. Women are not objects or body parts. So don’t portray women as such. It is not cute. It is not funny. It is disrespectful and damaging.
Stop sexist advertising.