Guest post: Time to complain to the ASA again…

// 17 April 2009

Reader Anber Raz explains why an advert for IT equipment has been raising her hackles.

Getting off the train at Waterloo station in London I was stunned to see this poster which shows the mugshot of Hugh Grant following his arrest after being caught with a prostituted woman (not for buying another human being of course but because he was involved in a lewd act in public). Above the picture the strap line states: “Don’t get caught with the wrong rental” and below it states “Equipment and services that will blow you away”. This is an ad for a company that hires out IT equipment!

To equate the hiring of IT equipment with the buying of women for sexual exploitation is disgusting. Frankly, I have no clue how this ad got approved. Here’s a link to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) website, where you can complain online: it really doesn’t take very long. I’m not holding my breath since the ASA is rubbish at doing anything about sexist ads but maybe if enough people complain they’ll do something.

The company is called Hire-Intelligence (debatable!). Please also write to them directly and let them know what you think of their ad.

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Comments From You

Alex T // Posted 17 April 2009 at 7:12 pm

Incidently, if you’re on Facebook the FWord group has a name-and-shame discussion thread (mainly added to by me!) about sexist ads. Please add your own and complain to the ASA about as many as you see fit.

FelicityCrock // Posted 17 April 2009 at 11:29 pm

Disgusting – please as many people complain as possible!

It equates it to speeding, don’t get caught. If prostitution becomes jokingly advertised like it’s a part/ or should be/ of everyone’s life. That’s the problem with advertising, the normalising, setting standards for normal behaviour. Making the exploitation of women a joke, but on a serious level.

Not doing much for the IT profession, is it? That already has a male- gaze vibe that wards women off.

Jen // Posted 18 April 2009 at 2:35 am

Can we please move beyond the notion that prostitution = buying people?

Prostitution is about the purchasing of sexual services, that’s it. A prostitute has the right to refuse a client service at any time, and to set the limits of the transaction. The ideas that you’re putting forth — that a client actually purchases a person — are harmful to sex workers, as a client now becomes an owner, and can therefore do whatever (s)he wants with that worker.

Feminism should not be in the business of trying to undermine the agency of any person. Please stop talking about prostitution in this way.

Gregory Carlin // Posted 18 April 2009 at 10:14 pm

I think it is an Irish franchise company, I will see what I can do about it.

School contracts, govt. custom & etc. I will do my best.

I apply voice of reason & etc.

Gregory Carlin

IATC, Belfast, Northern Ireland


Anne // Posted 19 April 2009 at 6:58 pm

Well done Anber for pointing this out, I think its a dreadful ad and have complained to the ASA after reading your post. ‘Don’t get caught with the wrong rental’ – how did that company think this was a good idea, the information that the sex industry is exploitative and coercive is widely enough distributed now, that dumb ignorance is not an excuse for this type of ‘word-play’.

M. R. J. // Posted 19 April 2009 at 11:01 pm

Prostitution is about the purchasing of sexual services, that’s it. A prostitute has the right to refuse a client service at any time, and to set the limits of the transaction.

Not in the real world. You see, this is when the minority do not speak over the majority.

Anber // Posted 20 April 2009 at 11:02 am

They did remove the ad for about a week- but just saw today that it’s back up again. I complained to ASA quite some time ago but only got the standard we’ll look into it response, that was weeks ago, still no further update.

Francis // Posted 20 April 2009 at 11:44 am

Jen – prostitutes can set limits, but the *women* rarely ever get to. Violation of a sex worker’s rights is sub par.

I don’t think you have the right to shame people into thinking prostitution is a simple purchasing of sexual activity. That even sounds fucked up.

Jen // Posted 20 April 2009 at 9:15 pm

There is a world of difference between those who choose sex work and those who are forced into it. It is possible, and necessary, to address the needs of each group without conflating them. The original article conflates them. Sex work, when it is chosen and has nothing to do with human trafficking, is about the purchasing of a service. The sex worker is not bought or sold, for an hour or a night. Whether this group is a minority or not has no bearing on the fact that they are not owned by anybody. Human trafficking is an entirely different beast.

In the “real world”, attitudes like that in the original article or in the comment left by M.R.J. contribute to an atmosphere that is dangerous and hateful for sex workers, as it advocates the notion that a client “owns” a sex worker. If the client owns a sex worker, there can be no such things as the rape or abuse of a sex worker. It’s not “shaming” to ask a feminist blog to please stop talking about sex work (again, sex work, NOT human trafficking) in a way that recognizes the agency of the sex worker. Sex work, like anything else, is a *job*. Presumably, none of us feels that our employers own us, so why are you so certain that a sex worker must be owned by his or her clients? That this particular job involves sex does not make it any less a job.

Deciding for sex workers that they have no autonomy is most definitely *not* a solution to violations of the rights of sex workers. But recognizing and respecting their agency, and being willing to listen, learn, and work with sex workers may very well be the beginning of one.

Laura // Posted 21 April 2009 at 10:57 am

I agree there is a difference between those who choose sex work and those who are forced into it, be it through drug addiction, trafficking or any number of factors, and I think the terms chosen to describe those who work / are forced to work in the sex industry should, where possible, reflect the situation of the specific people being referred to. As such, I personally don’t feel it is appropriate to refer to all these people as either ‘prostituted women’ or ‘sex workers’; the former denies the agency of and refuses to recognise those who do choose this work, while the latter can hide the abuse and exploitation suffered by the many women who are forced into the sex industry.

Liz // Posted 21 April 2009 at 12:22 pm

‘presumabley no-one feels like their job owns them’

I beg to differ.I think this depends on what work you are doing. I think if I am working in a job where my labour is massively devalued, where I cannot chose when I go for breaks, where people who run whatever buisness I work for earn more than 10 times my wage off the back of my labour – I think then I would feel a little bit ‘owned’.

Lack of economic security, food, freedom makes us feel like our jobs own us.

I think the difference with sex work is that the body is being used by those with capital in a different way, with a gender element influencing a capital element.

I appreciate your point about language, but we are all restricted to different level by capital – one way or another. I think it doesn’t deny agency of sex workers/prostitues/prostituted women to point this out if you have an awareness of the extent to which we are all ‘owned’ or even opressed by owning. We can be work a shitty job and feel rubbish about it and have agency at the same time, our bosses can ‘own’ our labour, without us having to say we have no freedom. Similarly I think you can say that a John/client etc in some way ‘owns’ the body of the prostitute/sex worker/prostituted woman during the time of purchase without this meaning that she has no agency or free will.

Think we need to get beyond ‘agency’ vs ‘opression’ you can have agency and be opressed at the same time.

Anber // Posted 23 April 2009 at 10:25 am

Finally received a reply from the ASA- no surprise they don’t think there’s a problem with the ad:

“We don’t intervene where advertising is simply criticised for being in poor taste. Apart from freedom of speech considerations, even well intentioned and thoughtful people will have a different and sometimes contradictory opinions about what constitutes ‘bad taste’…..We can only act if the ad, in our judgement, offends against widely accepted moral, social or cultural standards”.

Will be writing back to them to enquire just how many ads they have pulled for being sexist and discriminatory. Wonder if ASA is covered by the Gender Equality Duty!

FlissCrock // Posted 23 April 2009 at 12:54 pm

Anber on their site, the only sexism they mind is against men.

They report successful cases of half naked men ads being taken to court and say sexy men offend the public and are objectifying.

Whereas they state a woman has to have full boobs showing basically to be considered objectable by the ‘wider public’.

I think the problem is there isn’t such a thing as sexism now in advertising, it’s just an accepted discrimination. When feminists fight against stuff like this they fight against culture; and not what ads have permission to do. We know they don’t cross a line now, we can only be angry how they get away with it.

Objectifying women is standard course. Funny for the male advert they had 3 male complainants and took it up. I’m betting for some actual sexist ads (reinforcing patriarchy’s oppression of women) they get hundreds up to 1000s and still don’t move. Clearly they put their wet finger in the air to decide what the ‘wider public’ thinks.

Anber // Posted 23 April 2009 at 4:41 pm

ASA is covered by the general Gender Equality Duty. Will be writing back to them to enquire how they are complying with it.

Anber // Posted 29 April 2009 at 11:12 am

In the Guardian today a run down of top 10 most complained about ads in 2008. None of the ones complained about for being sexist were investigated further. Also heard that OFCOM are looking into the ad featuring Keira Knightely to raise awareness about domestic violence- they want the violent scenes cut out- if only reality worked that way!

Clare // Posted 29 April 2009 at 12:05 pm

I complained as well but only got the standard response. I did question whether it conformed to general gender equality standards but didn’t receive any answer.

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