Everyday Misogyny: Sexism in Paradise Video Update

You’ll be astonished to know that my complaint via the Air New Zealand website (thanks Lucy for the motivation to make it) has not resulted in the ‘Safety in Paradise’ ads being withdrawn.

Here’s how the correspondence has gone so far, and what I’m doing next.

complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority, ASA complaints process, Air New Zealand safety video, sexism in paradise, #sexisminparadise, objectification of women

After I wrote this post about why I thought the video was a problem, I linked to it on the Air New Zealand Facebook page, and have had no response from them.

In the little box on their main website I wrote this:

I’m really disappointed at your choice to ally with Sports Illustrated for the latest safety video.

I have six reasons I think it’s a poor choice, and not up to your usual standards. I have written about them on my blog, here:

Not only does the Swimsuit Edition objectify women, but it belittles women’s sport – which the magazine pays very little attention to. This is not something a country with a proud sporting history should go anywhere near.

This is compulsory viewing on your aeroplanes and I won’t be taking my son on one until these safety videos are gone.

Please leave the sexist 1970s behind.
Thalia Kehoe Rowden

Lucy wrote this, and copied it to the Sacraparental Facebook page thread:

I am completely dismayed by your latest safety advert.

I think it is awful that something so obviously objectifying of women is COMPULSORY viewing. On one hand you can make whatever adverts you like because I can just turn them off. But me and my children HAVE to watch this sexist safety click.

You are completely destroying any hopes you had of being New Zealand’s family friendly airline.

Air New Zealand sent us both a form reply, saying this:

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback regarding our new in-flight safety video.

We appreciate that with each new safety video there will be some people who like the content and others that don’t.  We have been careful to ensure Safety in Paradise has been produced in a way that is tasteful and suitable for viewing by passengers of all ages.  This included testing the video extensively with both a cross section of customers and staff to ensure we strike the right balance between entertainment and communicating important safety messages.  

We were also very careful to ensure that the men, women and children who feature in the video are wearing clothing appropriate for the beach setting where they were filmed. This safety video also allows us to promote the Cook Islands, a key Pacific Island destination which Air New Zealand has served for more than 60 years.

That said your feedback is an important part of our review process and please be assured that your comments have been passed to our Marketing team.  

Thank you once again for bringing your concerns to attention.

Yours sincerely

I replied:

Thank you for your response to my submission.

I’m afraid I don’t feel like you have actually responded to my concerns of sexism. I wasn’t complaining that the video was horrifically explicit or that people shouldn’t wear swimsuits on beaches.

I think aligning your company with one that glories in objectifying women and belittles women’s sport is inappropriate.

I haven’t heard back yet after that last email, but an automated message assures me I will. [Update: that email was March 14 and I haven’t heard anything further.]

Again inspired by Lucy, I have now submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. It’s based on the original blog post, so definitely skim it! But I’ve addressed the various Codes that advertisers are supposed to abide by, so I’m copying it all here in case anyone else would like to make a similar complaint. Feel free to copy and paste to your heart’s content.

I argued (in a different box on the form, which I forgot to copy from before I hit submit and it disappeared) that the safety video was also an advertisement, since Air New Zealand says in its own press release it is intended to promote the Cook Islands Air New Zealand service, and also promotes Sports Illustrated magazines.

To whom it may concern:

I am disturbed at the sexist and sexual content of the latest Air New Zealand safety video, ‘Safety in Paradise’ for five principle reasons.

Air New Zealand has a fun tradition of luring passengers to watch the safety briefing we may have seen dozens of times before. Over the last few years they’ve produced a bunch of different themed safety videos for the planes with screens. It’s a great idea.

On the flight I took from Auckland to Wellington on Friday 28 February 2014, the flight attendants in the safety video told us with excitement that it was the 50th anniversary of the first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Several models then demonstrated the safety features while wearing bikinis and other swimsuits.

It’s not pornography on a billboard and it’s not Grand Theft Auto in a kindergarten. I’m not suggesting it was terribly explicit or sexual. But things don’t need to be overwhelmingly evil to be worth protesting about.

Here are the reasons I hope Air New Zealand will the latest video and stick with hobbits.

1: It’s compulsory to watch (Social Responsibility)

As someone tells us every time we fly in New Zealand, ‘Civil Aviation rules require you to comply with all crew instructions and lighted signs.’ I can choose not to buy or ‘read’ Playboy or other sexist publications but I can’t choose to avoid this video.

That makes it more invasive and disorienting than seeing a sexist billboard from the motorway or an explicit programme on television. I can’t think of any other media that people are forced to watch. I can’t think of any other public situation where a piece of advertising more at home in the sexist 1970s would be thought appropriate.

Principle 4 of the Advertising Code of Ethics provides that ‘All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.’

As I will argue below, the objectification of women that this video uses and promotes is socially irresponsible. Even if Air New Zealand thought this video was not offensive enough to be broadcast generally, surely a higher standard of social responsibility is due for a media form that is compulsory viewing.

There are also, presumably, several people on the flight right now who struggle with addiction to pornography or sexual trouble or 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 whenever they fly.

2. Children are present when this video plays and are encouraged to watch by both the rules and the presence of a child in the video (Social Responsibility; Advertising to Children)

I can’t avoid this video, but more importantly for me, I also can’t prevent my son or yours from seeing it next time he flies.

This makes the Code for Advertising to Children relevant. Every child passenger is encouraged to watch this video. There is also a child actor in the video, which makes it more engaging for children.

The Adverting to Children Code provides:

‘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.

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

This video uses sexual imagery. The models are not merely presenting the safety information, nor ‘merely’ doing so while wearing few clothes. They are posing and moving in ways that are clearly sexualised.

While it’s true the models also ogle a half-   young man, who understands at his core that girls and women are full human beings with a great deal to offer that isn’t measured in cup sizes. Of course I can’t shield him from all misogyny, and whenever he is confronted with this misinformation, I hope we will critique it together, but I’d rather he weren’t forced to watch it in order to be safe in an air crash.

3: The video and the magazines it promotes are engaged in objectifying women (Social Responsibility; People in Advertising)

Again, Principle 4 of the Advertising Code of Ethics provides that ‘All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.’

Principle 5 of the Code for People in Advertising also provides:

‘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.’

This advertisement (for both flights and magazines) is exploitative and degrading and objectifies women in a way that is not socially responsible.

The women recruited to star in this video are all hardworking professionals, presumably making a fair amount of money from modelling. I don’t want to deny them agency and call them victims.

The victims are the rest of us, male and female, who suffer from the normalisation of ogling at women’s bodies and judging women’s worth by the state of their mammary tissue.

This shoot objectified these women (perhaps with their consent) and it supports the objectifying of all women.

What do I mean by ‘objectifying’ and why is it a problem?

There’s a beauty bias in us all that means good-looking people have more success (financial, social, career, and more) in life than bad-looking people. Economists call it the ‘beauty premium.’ This will continue to be untrue the more we say it’s normal and acceptable to elevate people’s physical attributes above their characters, intellects, talents and inherent human worth. All these latter things are more important to the human race than beauty.

I am not suggesting that companies not be allowed to employ beautiful actors to promote their products. But these actors and models were not just beautiful, they were also scantily-clad and simpering to deliberately invoke their sexuality to promote the products. This is objectification and it is unacceptable.

Again, Principle 5 of the Code for People in Advertising provides:

‘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.’

This advertisement clearly uses sexual appeal to draw attention to the services of an airline – an unrelated service.

4: Sports Illustrated is not a socially responsible product and should not be promoted to children (Social Responsibility; Advertising to Children; Sexual Imagery)

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition has nothing to do with sport. It is only about objectification of women’s bodies. Connecting it with the notion of ‘sport’ insults genuine sportswomen.

A glance at the Sports Illustrated website, any month of the year, shows that this magazine covers almost no genuine sport involving women, but frequently and regularly features objectification of female models who are not engaged in sport. This is not an appropriate product to promote to children.

Again, the Code provides:

‘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.

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

It’s bad enough that the video was all about modelling swimsuits – or rather, showing off women’s bodies – but it’s worse to pretend this has anything to do with actual swimming, or any other kind of sport.

No one could win the 200m backstroke in these togs.

Women’s sport is marginalised enough as it is. For example, the New Zealand women’s rugby team, the Black Ferns, have won all four World Cups from 1998 to 2010, being virtually unbeaten for their entire history of existence, but women’s rugby remains poorly funded and low-profile.

It doesn’t help the cause of women’s sport to have the most high-profile issue of Sports Illustrated devoted to modelling.

Social responsibility demands that Air New Zealand not further undermine women’s sport, nor support the objectification of women’s bodies under the guise of sport.

5: This ad is targeted only at heterosexual male passengers, though it is compulsory for all passengers to watch it (Social Responsibility)

I’m happy to be corrected by any gay women who feel well served by this advertisement, but I feel fairly sure the main target audience for this video is straight men. Are they the only ones who need to be safe in a crash?

When I saw the first group of bikini-clad women on the beach in this video – having expected the Hobbit-themed safety video that had played on the earlier flight I’d taken on 28 February – I let out an involuntary ‘Are you kidding me?!’ The middle-aged woman sitting in the same row looked over at me and rolled her eyes in solidarity. Air New Zealand didn’t make this video for either of us to enjoy. This sends the message that female passengers are not valued or valuable.

Sitting in a confined space with a compulsorily fastened seatbelt and video screens operating without any control from viewers: this is a very weird situation to encounter a lengthy tribute to an American magazine that makes a vast amount of money from paying women to undress for the camera.

Between the annoyed people like me and the randy fans of the Swimsuit Safety video, I’m not sure anyone was paying much attention to the position of the emergency exits.

I would like Air New Zealand to discontinue this advertising campaign and apologise to men and women everywhere who want to live in a society where women are respected and valued for more than their appearance.

Thank you for your consideration of this complaint.

Yours faithfully

Thalia Kehoe Rowden

I hit send before I remembered two other things I wanted to say. Luckily I have a blog!

Check out newzealand.everydaysexism.com for proof that Kiwi women experience sexism and harassment as a matter of daily life.

And according to the United Nations, New Zealand is #6 in the world on the Human Development Index. Awesome! But we’re only #31 for gender equality, behind, for instance, Portugal, Australia, Cyprus, Israel and the former Yugoslav states. Still some way to go, and Air New Zealand could, if it wanted to, show some leadership to help us climb the rankings.

If you would like to add your voice so Air New Zealand hears us, you can write to them using this form and/or write to the Advertising Standards Authority using this one. Feel free to copy any of my words to do so, and please leave a comment below letting us know your progress. Oh, and you can use Lucy’s #sexisminparadise and the #everydaysexism hashtags on social media if you’re chatting about it!

Update: The Advertising Standards Authority has just written to me advising that the Chairman of the Complaints Board has agreed that the Board should consider my complaint. I’ll keep you posted!

This post, and also my recent re-engagement on Twitter, are pretty much brought to you by the marvellous Lucy of Lulastic and the Hippyshake. Thanks for the kick up the bottom, Lucy!

So… you can now connect with me and Sacraparental conversations on Facebook (mostly for cool links and speedier discussions), Pinterest (for resource boards on all sorts of stuff) AND Twitter. Phew! My child may never wash or eat again.

objectification of women, Air New Zealand's sexist safety video, everyday sexism, feminist parenting, #sexisminparadise, sexism in paradise, Advertising Standards Authority complaint process

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16 comments on “Everyday Misogyny: Sexism in Paradise Video Update”

  1. Spaghettican Reply

    Well said! Well thought out and put so clearly. For myself, I’m wondering how to respond when I haven’t actually seen the ad – do I watch the youtube link so I have something to complain about? Or do I stick to my guns and choose not to watch it? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how to ‘protest’ if I haven’t actually watched the offending video…

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Good thought, Katy. For the Advertising Standards Authority, you do have to say when you saw the ad, so you wouldn’t be able to complain there.

      Choosing not to watch it is fine, of course. I think you can still have an opinion and a voice, because what we (most of us) are complaining about is not that we are personally offended and had to cover our eyes in horror, but that it is inappropriate for the context, and promotes objectification. You can know that without seeing it.

      I think a key way to contribute to the protest would be to keep the conversation going among your friends and online.

  2. Andy Reply

    My complaint was shorter to them (I just submitted). It does beggar belief that they would be so utterly stupid in this respect. On so many fronts this is not at all wise by AirNZ.

      • Andy Reply

        they must know that when they do stupid stuff in the public square they are going to get hammered, and bring out the slick words to try and paper over it rather htan fessing up to a mistake isn’t the way to win people over.

        • not a wild hera Reply

          I think there’s a trade-off they’re calculating between the target market (Americans) and the stakeholders (Kiwis who feel like it’s ‘our’ airline – as indeed it is!). So I don’t think they actually care if Kiwis think its an irresponsible campaign. They want bums on seats from LA to the Cooks – and a lot of Americans buy Sports Illustrated.

  3. Pingback: Everyday Misogyny: What’s wrong with Air New Zealand’s Swimsuit Safety Video? | Sacraparental

  4. SKATERAK Reply

    It is a highly inappropriate theme for a safety video shown to a wide cross section of society. Children, people with conservative views, sex addicts, married men (not that it’s any better for singles I guess), religious folk and so on. Basically a safety message should be G rated only.What next – coarse language? Violence? Partying? Air New Zealand’s lack of taste is obvious in this situation. It’s not about being prudish or old fashioned. If it were a TV show it wouldn’t be on before 8pm, so why show it to children during the day? Are safety videos exempt from censorship? I don’t have much time for Air New Zealand on a good day, but their arrogance towards opposition to this video is disgraceful, frankly. Would the managers at Air New Zealand be happy to show that video to their young children? What if their children had friends over – would they show it to all of them? Shame on them.

  5. Sally Reply

    Oh my goodness that is ridiculous – they’re on a damn beach in swimwear. Get over it!

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Hi Sally, thanks for joining the conversation.

      I think I’ve been pretty clear in both posts that I’m not arguing against people wearing togs on a beach.

      The problem is that women wearing togs are being used to advertise an airline and a sports magazine. Do you have thoughts on the appropriateness of using sex to sell products and services?

      • Sally Reply


        Air New Zealand is teaming up with Sports Illustrated to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. Two big name brands teaming up is nothing new.

        Before you ask, no – I do not work for Air New Zealand.

        I am, however, a frequent flyer and travel regularly for work.

        As a woman I have no issue with the video and I believe it is one of their best. They are celebrating the beauty of the Cook Islands and the beauty of woman – both have every right to be celebrated.

        Did you have a problem with their “Nothing to Hide” video where males and females were body painted?

        Do you have a problem with the shirtless male in his shorts by the pool in the video? Would you have a problem if they swapped the woman out for men? Or if their next video teamed up with the New Zealand Fire Service and had shirtless men delivering the safety message?

        Because really, that’s what it’s all about. Finding new ways to deliver a usually mundane message to a wider audience and like Air New Zealand said themselves, they can’t please everyone. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But just grin and bear it knowing that it won’t be long until there is a new fabulous Air New Zealand safety video out.

        Sally x

        • not a wild hera Reply

          Thanks, Sally – and no, I didn’t suspect you of working for Air New Zealand. I know this video has plenty of fans and I have no problem with other people enjoying it.

          I stand by my criticisms that the video is compulsory for those of us who have serious, well-founded problems with it – and especially with our children being targeted as viewers of it.

          No, I wouldn’t be happy if the genders were reversed. I don’t think it’s a positive, healthy thing for our society to place such a high priority on physical beauty and to be obsessed by the sexuality of strangers.

          I don’t want the video burned, and I don’t mind if you watch it and like it. I do mind being forced to watch it myself and have children exposed to it.

  6. Gabrielle Reply

    Thanks for the motivation to complain! Just saw this on a flight recently with my under 6 year old daughter and was totally shocked by it. Particularly for the potential body image issues it could create for young girls. Have put my complaints in, text below.

    “I am writing to complain about the Air New Zealand Safety in Paradise inflight safety video. While I have many issues with this video, my largest and the ones that form the basis of this complaint, arise from viewing for children.

    I recently flew on an Air New Zealand flight from Christchurch to Auckland (and return), with my 5.5 year old daughter, and was horrified to see these videos on the flights.

    The advertising codes for children state that:
    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.
    1(i) Advertisements should not include images that are degrading to any individual or group.

    The images in the Air New Zealand Safety in Paradise video are highly sexualized and should not be viewed by children. They are not in any way suitable for young children, and particularly degrade women. I have huge concerns as a parent about the sexualized imagery in this video for my daughter, and for the body image issues it could create for young girls. The videos strongly imply that if you are thin with big breasts and position yourself in particular ways posing on the beach in a bikini then you will enhance your sexuality towards males. We are not in any way a family that shies away from sex education for our children. Even from this position, we view these images as highly objectionable for children.”

  7. Pingback: Everyday Misogyny: What Air New Zealand Doesn’t Understand | Sacraparental

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