Harmful Gender Stereotypes in Ads Are Everywhere, and This Advertising Watchdog Is Finally Cracking Down
Smile for the camera and for gender equality.
Ads that include gender stereotypes may no longer see the sun.
The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released a statement today saying it will crack down on ads that suggest certain activities are only appropriate for one gender or ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.
In response to the report, the authors of the UK Advertising Code plan to develop a new standard for gender stereotypes in advertising. The new code will ban three types of ads: ads that suggest specific activities are inappropriate for boys or girls, ads that feature a man trying and failing to do a simple parental or household task, and ads that depict family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up.
The ASA’s new regulations will not address all forms of gender stereotypes. Commercials and ads featuring women cleaning and men doing DIY projects are still allowed under the ASA’s new proposal.
The ASA, along with independent research firm GfK Global, conducted research on harmful stereotypes in advertising. They found that tougher regulations were needed to address ads featuring gender stereotypes that could cause harm.
Harmful stereotypes not only pigeonhole an individual’s dreams to gender-specific careers but also influence the choices and opportunities of children, young people and adults. Advertising can reinforce these stereotypes, playing a part in gender inequality and ultimately harming individuals, the economy and society, the ASA’s recent report, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm, argued. One particular ad illustrates the stereotypes that ASA hopes to quash.
An ad for Aptamil’s 2013 baby milk formula shows girls dreaming of becoming ballerinas while boys dream of becoming engineers. The ad received severe backlash, and the comment section on YouTube had to be disabled.
The ASA’s proposal aims to change how women in particular are portrayed in ads.
The ASA initiated the review of how gender is portrayed in advertising after public backlash for a “beach body ready” ad campaign in 2015 featuring a bikini-clad model for Protein World’s slimming product. Critics said the ad was “socially irresponsible,” and a petition to ban the ad gathered 70,000 signatures.
Activists and celebrities have long criticized advertising for its role in promoting and shaping gender stereotypes.
American actress Meghan Markle made headlines for her speech at the UN’s Step It Up For Gender Equality event in 2015 when she talked about her experience with a gender-stereotyping ad she saw when she was 11 years old.
The commercial for a soap scrubber featured a woman in the kitchen washing dishes. Later, in school, her male classmates who also watched the commercial, told her that women belonged in the kitchen.
“I remember feeling shocked, and angry and also just so hurt. It just wasn’t right, and something needed to be done,” Markle said in her speech.
She wrote first to the soap manufacturer, then to First Lady Hillary Clinton and her local news station. One month later, the company, Proctor & Gamble, changed the commercial from “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “People all over America.”
Ads featuring gender stereotypes play a small part in the larger societal issue of gender inequality, but Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, told The Guardian that advertising can begin to tackle gender inequality.
“While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes,” he said, “tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”