There’s a reason why Mariah Carey never sang “all I want for Christmas is a frilly velvet lounge bra.”
While the pop legend famously dismissed her desire for stocking-fillers, it appears that one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets believes it’s found the secret to what men and women truly wish for this festive holiday.
And feminist campaigners aren’t thrilled by the result — a gendered display positioned underneath a Christmas tree in a store window in Nottingham town centre.
The Marks & Spencer store was advertising gifts coined as “the must-haves that make Christmas.”
In the red corner, lingerie for women was promoted as “must-have fancy little knickers.”
And in the blue, sharp suits for men worn by model David Gandy, complete with Gareth Southgate waistcoats, described as the “must-have outfits to impress.”
Dear @marksandspencer Your pay gap is 12.3% and you think ‘fancy little knickers’ is what women must have?! Pay your women staff properly and stop insulting the rest of us. @FiLiA_charity#MarksAndSpencerpic.twitter.com/onWebNurTU— Kiri Tunks (@kiritunks) November 19, 2018
Nottingham shoppers soon started protesting.
Local artist Fran Bailey posted a photo of the display in a Facebook group called Feminist Friends Nottingham, describing it as “completely vomit inducing,” and questioning if “we really [have] not learned anything in the last 35 years.”
“I felt embarrassed when I saw it,” Steans told HuffPost UK. “As a feminist and a mother to a young daughter I felt embarrassed that I had to yet again explain why women are depicted with so little respect.”
“Nottingham has a long history of championing women’s rights,” she added. “As the first city in the UK to make misogyny a hate crime, it is disappointing to see a window display that reduces women to their underwear while the male statement is about dressing to impress.”
To be clear: @marksandspencer believe that the 'MUST HAVES' are:— FiLiA (@FiLiA_charity) November 18, 2018
For MEN: 'outfits to impress'
For WOMEN: 'fancy little knickers'
Imagine for a moment if those window displays were reversed.
Go on M&S .... we are watching.
PS Who signed this off? #sexist#marksandspencerpic.twitter.com/XOqLUSElgd
It wasn’t long until campaigners edited the Marks & Spencer display so it read “must have full human rights” instead.
Other photos show the word “women” written in pink lipstick on the pavement outside the shop window.
“I think M&S using such a strapline is just really crass when so many are without the necessities of warmth, shelter, and food,” first responder Bailey told the Guardian. “The problem is that we’re so browbeaten by this sort of imagery that we don’t even recognise what it is anymore.”
“It’s pandering to notions of gender that are so outdated that it’s unbelievable that it’s still being spouted out,” she continued. “I’m disgusted because I’d have thought that M&S was a grown-up store that knew better.”
“I know M&S is not the worst offender by any means but this particular juxtaposition is just grotesque,” she added.
So @marksandspencer think fancy little knickers are a must have. #Women think fancy little full human rights ✊ are more pressing. 😂 They tried it. #Nottingham was like nah bro. pic.twitter.com/hVavwxOFME— Siân Louise (@SianLouise34) November 16, 2018
In May, a public consultation was launched in an attempt to ban harmful gender stereotypes in UK adverts.
A similar ban already exists in London after a controversial weight-loss billboard asking commuters if they were “beach body ready” went viral in 2016. Within a year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan had changed the advertising policy for all London transport services — and Paris soon followed.
And now, the internet is wondering how the Marks & Spencer display got as far as the shop window.
Planning for both the Christmas window displays & video will have taken about a year involving many teams of different skills. How come no-one @marksandspencer has called this out, worked tog to not take it forward, tried to stop this sexist misogynistic dated & dangerous message— Rosemary Jameson (@rosiemakesjam) November 19, 2018
Good God. M&S haven't changed any of their marketing people since the "Mrs M&S" debacle, have they.— Abigail McGyn (@AbsMcFabs) November 19, 2018
Urgh. That is just, urgh. So wrong on so many levels.
That can only have been a man that came up with that.
“M&S sells more underwear, in more shapes, sizes and styles, than any other retailer, especially at Christmas,” a spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said. "We've highlighted one combination in our windows, which are part of a wider campaign that features a large variety of Must-Have Christmas moments, from David Gandy washing up in an M&S suit through to families snuggling up in our matching PJs."
The display at the Nottingham store has since been covered up by the store.