Words: Jessica Sheridan
One of the difficult daily conundrums for women is the pressure to be sexy, but not too sexy. We are encouraged to wear high heels, but not too high, to wear low cut tops, but not too low cut. Honestly it’s a minefield of social faux pas trying to balance the two camps, and it often results in the stifling of our sexuality for fear of being too sexually open.
But women should be able to talk about sex. More than just that, women should be able to talk about pleasure, sexual desires and dislikes, the sensuality of their bodies – everything. I believe women should stand their ground and own their sexuality, recognising that their pleasure is just as important as their partners and their bodies really are a wonderland. Women should not have to feel ashamed of being sexy.
Honey Birdette is one brand that claims to stand for this idea. On their website, they introduce themselves as ‘Pleasure parlours’ created to ‘inject a sense of sensuality into the Australian bedroom.’ Many people are likely familiar with the brand: their decadent shop fronts of gold and black can hardly be missed, and they are known for selling luxury lingerie and sex toys unashamedly. And rightly so – there should be no shame in consensual sexual pleasure.
But not everything is always as it seems.
Recently ex-employees of Honey Birdette have come forward to speak out about the brand, claiming poor work conditions, sexism, and being subjected to sexual harassment. At a protest in Victoria on December 9th a group of ex-employees gathered in Melbourne to bring attention to the backwards working conditions they were subjected to. The ex-employees were seen burning bras and sporting signs that read ‘Not Your Honey’ in protest of the mistreatment and sexual harassment they faced during their employment.
And it’s not just the protest. A petition has started online calling for change to Honey Birdette’s dress code, policies, and attitude toward sexual harassment. The campaign creator Chanelle Rogers wrote in her preamble to the petition:
‘I saw workers humiliated and threatened by management because they weren’t wearing perfectly applied lipstick all day, their heels weren’t high enough, and because they didn’t “talk the way a Honey should talk”. I saw workers sexually harassed and intimidated by customers – and when these women spoke up, management told them to suck it up.’
One story by ex-employee Dominic Jericho Drury has also been shared hundreds of times on Facebook, detailing their own experience working at Honey Birdette. They likened their employment with the company to an ‘abusive relationship – obviously insane from the outside but alluring enough to still suck people in.’ They recalled repeated harassment by customers, claiming ‘we had to put up with this, as there was no way we would be supported if looking after ourselves came before making a sale.’ Their story highlights the extremes expected of employees to be considered a true Honey.
Over the past twenty four hours, the Honey Birdette Facebook page has been inundated with posts from customers who claim they will be boycotting the store. Many of the posts – mostly from women – demand that Honey Birdette change their policies, or share stories from other ex-employees supporting the protest’s allegations. While it is amazing to see women standing together to protect the rights of their fellows, Honey Birdette are yet to acknowledge and respond to the protests. There have been no posts by the page or on their website following the accusations.
These stories paint a picture nothing like the one Honey Birdette speaks of when it claims to ‘empower women.’ In order to empower women, you have to respect them, treat them fairly, and allow them to stand up for themselves. From small issues like requiring girls to wear perfect red lipstick and high heels for their long shifts, to bigger issues like shutting down complaints of sexual harassment, the protest and petition are shedding a very ugly light upon the company that was created with feminist ideas in mind.
It is not empowerment when women are forced to show their bras and wear stilettos just to keep their job. It is not empowerment when women are paid to have people talk to them in unwanted sexually explicit ways. It is not empowerment when women are scared to speak up about feeling uncomfortable in the workplace for fear of losing their job. This is not sexual empowerment. This is not even women empowerment. Silencing sexual harassment allegations and enforcing dress codes that play on sexualising women for the public (read as: male) gaze is disempowering.
It’s one of those problems that seem to stem from trying to apply a quick fix to a deeply ingrained societal issue. Sexual empowerment is not as simply as wearing a lacy bra or holding a riding crop. It is not red lipstick during the day or wearing stilettos as high as possible. Sexual empowerment is about choice, and feeling good about those choices. If you take away the ability to choose, then you make it impossible to empower women.
Dress codes and workplace policies are a fact of life. But sexism and sexual harassment shouldn’t be.
Featured Image: Source: Facebook