This Lara Stone for Calvin Klein billboard has been banned in Australia, not because it is too sexy, but because officials say it speaks not only to the highly-sexualized nature of the brand, but to gang rape.
The Australian case is hardly the first time that Calvin Klein billboards have come down in neighborhoods around the world. Creating controversy is part of the brand's DNA.
Australia's Advertising Standards Bureau chief Fiona Jolly said: "The industry standard says you can use sexuality and nudity provided to use them with sensitivity to the audience . . . These are large billboards so they have a broad audience of anyone who can see them."
Women's advocate and author Melinda Tankard-Reist wrote in her blog that advertisements like the Calvin Klein billboard promote the idea that women and girls "exist for male gratification and pleasure". Australians are trying to organize a boycott of the Calvin Klein brand.
Also from her blog is the printed complaint and testimony from people upset with the blog, along with the final ruling. The arguments are well stated and legitimate, and not the response of 'provincial' people. We doubt that the conversation would be so calm, civilized and cogent in America.
From a woman who filed a complaint:
I found this advertisement offensive as I believe it clearly suggests some sort of gang rape scenario. The woman is having her hair pulled so hard her head is pulled back while another man leans over her and their pants are undone. None of the people on the billboard seem to be enjoying the situation in any way. This is a huge billboard in a busy area and given much research states as many as 1 in 4 women in Australia are victims of domestic violence, many of the women who walk past and see this ad may find it triggering and upsetting. I also find it problematic in that it will be viewed by many children, being in a public space. I myself must walk past this ad many times as I go to work as a nurse who sees many victims of these sorts of crimes, and so I find the ad is extremely bad taste.
Calvin Klein representatives have responded:
We appreciate receiving feedback on the image, and take seriously any complaint about our client's advertising.
Our response to the complaint is that the models are partially unclothed however not nude. The woman in the image on the left is not struggling, not does she look distressed. There is no violence as the men are holding her. In the image on the right, which clearly follows as a narrative from the image on the left, the woman is relaxed and comfortable, clarifying for the viewer that there has been consent and no violence within the narrative and the imagery. This image is in a public space, and this billboard has been selected to target the Calvin Klein Jeans consumer, and is not actively directed towards children.
In its ruling, the Board tied a second image of Lara Stone to the billboard at the center of the controversy, writing that "the second image, of the woman sitting on the bench alone with her legs apart, is by virtue of its location with the first image, inappropriately sexually suggestive.
The Board considered the depiction of the woman with the three men to be highly sexualised and clearly suggestive of sexual behaviour. The Board considered that whilst the act depicted could be consensual, the overall impact and most likely takeout is that the scene is suggestive of violence and rape. The Board considered that the image was demeaning to women by suggesting that she is a plaything of these men. It also demeans men by implying sexualised violence against women."
Here are previously published photos from the ad campaign.
Calvin Klein Jeans X - Fall 2010
Watching the video again -- and being a victim of sexual violence myself -- I definitely believe that Lara Stone is the 'slut girl' in this video. But many young women believe that being the 'slut girl' defines their liberation. It's a wave of feminism that I truly don't understand, and I'm no prude. This is the Jezebel woman, liberated 'slut machine' in action.
What the complaints inspire is thinking about just how fine the line can be around this issue. Neither the words posted by people who are offended or the Ad Standards Board response are irrational and written by sexually, squeamish people.
In the second half of the video, there absolutely are innuendos of aggression. Is Lara Stone the victim? No, because she asked for it.
The video makes me reflect on the 'wilding' in Central Park about a decade ago. The women who were stripped naked in a real life scene very similar to this video definitely didn't ask for it, although there were comments that the women's clothes invited the incident. I must ponder this one. Anne
More reading from 2009 New York City complaints about Calvin Klein: