Harmful gender stereotypes in ads to be banned

9 May 2019

Photography: Pixabay

The Committees of Advertising Practice have provided advertisers with examples of problematic scenarios they should avoid

Recently, the UK’s independent advertising regulator, ASA, released an advisory code that bans ads from promoting harmful gender stereotypes.

This applies to ads shown on traditional media such as broadcast, print and outdoors, as well as social media.

The new rule states: “Marketing communications must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.”

ASA Media and Public Affair official, Shabnam Mustapha, said: “We, at ASA, are responsible for ensuring that advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful and we take action against misleading, harmful or offensive ads. We have the power to ban ads that break our rules.”

Alys Mumford, Communications and Engagement Manager at Engender Scotland, said: “There are really positive changes happening within the media to change gender stereotypes, and use it as a powerful tool to influence the way we see women’s equality in Scotland.”

According to ASA, ads should not depict “gender-stereotypical roles”; these include “occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender. Gender-stereotypical characteristics include attributes or behaviours usually associated with a specific gender.”

It also states that ads should avoid “suggesting that an individual’s happiness or emotional wellbeing should depend on conforming to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape or physical features.”

Mustapha said: “We carried out a review into gender portrayals in ads. The evidence endorsed the tough approach taken by the ASA to ads banned on grounds of objectification, inappropriate sexualisation and for normalising unhealthily thin body images, but found that more needs to be done on harmful gender stereotypical roles and characteristics portrayed in ads.”

A recent ad by the clothing brand GAP. Photograph: ASA

In a recent study, the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity in campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, revealed that gender stereotyping in childhood has lifelong  impacts on men and women.

45% of people said they had “experienced gender stereotyping as they were expected to act a certain way,” and 54% of women aged over 35 said “gender stereotyping had a negative impact on who does the caring in their own family,” compared to 38% of men within the same age range.

Mustapha said: “Our research has shown that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults; that these stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising; and that this plays a part in driving unequal gender outcomes in society.”

46% of men and women also agreed that the government should take action in challenging gender stereotypes.

A recent study. Photograph: Ana Lorang

Mumford is advocating for this action to happen sooner rather than later. She said: “Gender stereotyping has a huge impact on women’s and girls’ inequality in Scotland – from career segregation through to caring responsibilities to violence against women – so without tackling gender stereotypes we can’t achieve full equality.”

The new rule will come into force on 14 June 2019.

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