Must we get our kit off to get noticed?

Must we get our kit off to get noticed?

Must we get our kit off to get noticed?8

Fundraising | Rowena Lewis | 1 Apr 2010

Rowena Lewis is shocked by the Autism Trust's new poster campaign showing its founder 'getting 'em out' for the boys.

What kind of society are we in where a woman feels that in order to be listened to she must strip off her clothes?

Polly Tommey, founder of the Autism Trust, has found a new way to get politicians and the public (read men) to sit up and listen. On 29th March she launched a nationwide billboard campaign featuring a larger-than-life image of her upper torso in nothing more than a bra. The sign reads “Hello boys! Autism is worth over 6 million votes. It’s time to talk.”

The Autism Trust registered as a charity in 2007. The Trust’s aim is to create a future with purpose for children everywhere with autism. Perhaps I’m not getting it, but what does a future for children with autism have to do with Polly’s cleavage? 

Moreover Downing Street has granted Polly reception in response to the campaign. What kind of message does this send out to the charity world? That in order to get party leaders to take children with autism seriously women need to get their kit off?

I’m reminded of the 2007 PETA campaign when in order to raise awareness about the confinement of sows a heavily pregnant member of PETA’s staff posed naked and kneeling on all fours in a metal cage; the recent Teenage Cancer Trust’s use of a micky-take of ‘the porn cum shot’ in 12R ads in cinemas around the country to encourage teenagers to use sun cream, and Mark Foster’s recent promotion of Prostate Cancer Awareness Month posing in a pair of M&S underpants.

Is the charity sector willing to embrace the wider societal change towards this objectification?  Is enough thought given to the evidence that links sexualised images of women and attitudes that underpin violence and discrimination against women – as recognised by the UN Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women? And where does this leave the women’s sector? Groups such as Object, Refuge, Women’s Aid, WRC, Pinkstinks and Fawcett are campaigning to stop violence against women, rape, objectification, and calling for a gender equal society where women are valued and respected as individuals, not for their ability to get their kit off.

Isn’t it about time the sector that champions social justice took a stand against the sexualisation of women in our culture, rather than embracing it wholeheartedly?

(Click on image below to see full advert)

U Salmon
Consultant Researcher
23 Jun 2010

Polly Tommey's response to those who commented that the image was degrading to women, was "What is degrading is how people with autism are forced to live."

How sad that Ms Tommey is asking us to choose between who is more degraded by society: women or autistic people. As though she sees the identities of gender and disability as in competition for who is the most oppressed.

Mr Neil Malley
Finance Manager
THOMAS Organisation
7 Apr 2010

I'd never heard of the Autism Trust until I read this blog. Job well done by the advertisers then?

Gavin Gowlett
Fundraising Assistant
Get Connected
6 Apr 2010

For me, the irrelevance of the image undermines the strength of the message.

Whilst they may argue that by gaining an audience in No. 10 the campaign has achieved its aim, the lack of linkage between the Autism Trust’s work and the advert gives it a muddled message, undermining its ability to affect the public consciousness – surely an important aspect for any political campaign?

David Wood
Chief Executive
6 Apr 2010

To me this is all about values: values of our individual organisations, and values of the sector as a whole. The image, combined with the strapline is not an avenue we would have followed. It would be offensive to some of our client groups, and it also is offensive to some in our wider society who feel damaged and vulnerable.

I guess all organisations work out where to draw the line for them: I am not sure if they feel a responsibility to the wider sector or work out the implications for it.

Jo Middleton
Freelance Writer
2 Apr 2010

I think the most shocking part is that the ad won her an audience at Downing Street. The Government are literally saying 'take your top off and we'll let you in' - it's crazy!

Groups like Object aren't going to stand a chance are they if this is what you need to do to get your message heard.

Helen Osment
1 Apr 2010

I completely agree with this article. By taking this approach to campaigning, Ms Tommey has undermined the charity, her own professional image and wider issues to do with gender politics and the work place. This makes a mockery of the important messages she is aiming to convey, and using sex as a tool serves only to add to the plethora of media from other sectors which degrades and objectifies the female form for financial gain.

In reponse to the previous comment, I would have to say that this issue is about alot more than 'a bit of bare skin' and is part of a much more deeply ingrained problem, affecting men, women and children alike. It is a shame that the charity sector appears to be joining the 'sex sells' industry and in turn undercuting the integrity of the sector, and along with that much of its hard fought campaigning for equality and social justice.

Jonathan Sillett
1 Apr 2010

The fact that one of your examples is a man taking his clothes off indicates to me that this is not a sexism issue, but merely one of the use of sex in advertising. As a man I didn't particularly enjoy looking at the naked rugby players advertising Powerade but if they want to do it and/or women enjoy looking at it then fair enough, no point getting wound up about it. So it's a bit of bare skin, big deal.

One thing you could legitimately argue is, it's a bit boring and uninspired to use sex to get a message across, but ultimately it works and I don't see why charities shouldn't be free to utilise it, just as they would any other marketing tool.

Rowena Lewis
Head of Fundraising and Development
The Fawcett Society
2 Apr 2010
Response to [Jonathan Sillett]

Jonathan, I welcome your view that it's boring and uninspired to use sex to get a charity message across. Personally I find it disturbing and just a little sad. Disturbing because of the implication that the best way Polly feels she can get her message across and gain audience with Downing Street is by posing semi-naked. And sad because the campaign detracts from the core message - we are not debating the future of children with autism in this blog, we are debating whether Polly's cleavage has a place in charity advertising.


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Rowena Lewis

Rowena Lewis was one of the inaugural Fellows on the Clore Social Leadership Programme, in 2010, and is director of fundraising at Gingerbread.

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