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article image''Porno Chic'' Or Chic? The French Confront ''Sexist'' Adverts

Siegfried Mortkowitz.
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By Siegfried Mortkowitz     Jul 18, 2001 in Lifestyle
PARIS, (dpa) - The ad shows a voluptuous red-haired woman wearing only a necklace and a pair of high-heeled strap sandals and lying on her back, fondling a breast, in a pose of sexual rapture.

This advertising promoting Yves Saint Laurent's Opium perfume was banned in Britain in December because it was judged degrading to women, but it can still be seen on Paris streets and in magazines, a testimony to French open-mindedness.

This may change soon, however, as French women - and a surprising number of men - are now saying, "Enough is enough."

Protests against the use of what the French call "porno chic" are mounting. Some 30 men and women demonstrated recently for the fourth consecutive weekend in front of a Paris shoe shop selling a brand that uses advertising they consider demeaning to women.

The group, which calls itself The Pack, has also printed a manifesto against sexist ads on the Internet, and has so far gathered more than 1,800 signatures in support of its cause.

The founder of the group, historian Florence Montreynaud, said the final straw for her was an advertising for the Babette brand of creme fraiche.

It shows a woman from the neck down and wearing an apron upon which is printed the message, "Babette: I bind her, I whip her and sometimes she goes into the pan," which in French is a vulgar euphemism for sexual intercourse.

That ad also proved too much for the government's junior minister for women's rights, Nicole Pery, who Wednesday issued a report on the image of women in French advertising.

"For several years, and with increasing frequency over the past months, advertising has presented images of women which many judge humiliating and degrading," declared the report, which was drawn up by a group of advertising and human rights experts.

Some ads, it went on, even "flagrantly transgressed" the respect for human dignity.

The images they singled out for criticism included the Babette creme fraiche ad and a promotion for Magnum candy bars, one of which was stuck suggestively in a model's bikini briefs under the heading "For Man".

Among other recommendations, the report called on advertising agencies to exercise stricter self-policing, urged the profession to reinforce its code of ethics and suggested that guidelines drawn up in 1975 be updated to reflect current ethical standards.

In addition, the report recommended that women should be given the right to go to court against any advertising they consider offensive.

If that proposal is taken up, French advertisers can expect to spend a greater proportion of their profits on legal fees.

A recent poll by the public opinion institute IPSOS revealed that one out of two French women has been shocked by the images of women in advertising.

And three out of four women said that they have been more often shocked by advertising over the past year than previously.

Not surprisingly, advertising agencies and their clients reject the criticism.

One reason is because "porno chic" works. Another IPSOS survey found that, whether they thought the ad offensive or not, people remembered the brand it was promoting for a long time afterwards.

This often translates into money. For example, the almost universally reviled Babette creme fraiche campaign increased product sales by 28 per cent after it appeared.

In addition, many professionals disagree with the public over what constitutes sexism in advertising.

A spokeswoman for Yves Saint Laurent told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the Opium ad was not degrading to women at all.

"This woman is not demeaned," she said. "She is shown in the full richness of her beauty and sensuality, with all her powers of seduction."

She agreed that sexist advertising existed, "but only if it shows a woman in a position where men have power over her or as a prostitute".

Nicolas Bordas, head of the advertising agency BDDP & Sons, charges that his profession has increasingly become a scapegoat for modern society's ills.

"(Advertising) is a mirror of society," he said, "which everyone wants to break because it reflects an image which we do not like."
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