Last month Leiden highlighted the way Canberra construction firm Geocon tried to capitalise on International Women’s Day. In our article we also discussed their use of sexist imagery in advertising. In the weeks since, Unions ACT organised a snap action against Geocon, The Canberra Times reported that ‘ACT planning minister Mick Gentleman has taken aim at construction giant Geocon over its sexualised marketing campaigns, threatening to “take action” if its behaviour doesn’t change,’ and Geocon held a ‘woman empowerment’ event highlighting local businesswomen. Something else that happened was that a pair of people engaged in some billboard activism. Below are their words and images.
What would the models in Geocon images say and want? We suspected that the Geocon billboard image of a woman riding a bike with no shoes, helmet and a high cut swimming costume — on busy Melrose Drive, in Woden — might be wanting a bit more safety. If this was a real woman choosing to ride her bike, by no means would we be wanting to cover her body.
But this is a very photoshopped Geocon billboard model, where consistent to other Geocon billboards, women are being objectified to sell property in very mystifying non-contextual lifestyle images. So we decided to playfully give the woman in this image a helmet, shoes and some clothes to make her feel a little more comfortable. We also placed up a citizen request for eviction of these billboards.
Despite being playful in our actions, this is a serious matter to us. We find Geocon billboards offensive, not only because billboards are technically banned in the ACT, but also because they consistently objectify women. Extensive evidence shows that the sexualisation of females that is common in advertising has strong negative impacts on girls and women — such as cognitive and emotional consequences, mental and physical health and sexual development.
The American Psychological association states that viewing material that is sexually objectifying can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive affects and even physical problems in high-school aged girls and young women. Mental health is not an area we can afford to be complacent about in the ACT. A report from 2017 found that one third of 15-19 year olds in the ACT met the criteria for a serious ‘mental illness’, which is 10% higher than the national average. The most common issues for young Canberrans who met these criteria were stress, depression and body image. We believe these Geocon billboards are damaging to the social and emotional fabric of Canberra — and we strongly recommend they be taken down.