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‘Harmful’ gender stereotypes will no longer be allowed in ads

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Emily Reynolds
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Say goodbye to gender stereotypes… At long last.

Advertising isn’t known for its dedication to gender parity – so it may come as a surprise that the watchdog for the industry has announced it will be banning “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence”.

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) has acknowledged that advertising has caused a significant contribution to “how people see themselves and their role in society”. 

The change will apply to stereotyping of both men and women.

The rules will be enforced from 2019, and will mean that ads can no longer show anyone failing to achieve a task because of their gender – a woman unable to do DIY or park well, or a man unable to look after their children. 

Though it may seem more Fifties than 2018, gender stereotyping is still alive and well in advertising. 

In the last few years, numerous ads have come under fire for sexism. In 2017, car manufacturer Audi was criticised for releasing an ad in China comparing marrying a woman to buying a car – and who can forget Pritt Stick’s ‘Just 4 Girls’ campaign? 

Ella Smillie, Project Lead at the Advertising Standards Authority, said that the organisation doesn’t see itself as a “social engineer”, but instead as “reflecting the changing standards in society”. 

“Changing ad regulation isn’t going to end gender inequality but we know advertising can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, which can limit people’s choices or potential in life. Advertisers are already going in this direction. Tired old tropes don’t really work with consumers any more.”

She also said that “banter” is unlikely to stand up as an excuse.

“The use of humour or banter is unlikely to mitigate against the potential for harm,” she said. “It’s fine to show people undertaking gender-stereotypical roles such a woman cleaning. But if an advert showed a woman being solely responsible for cleaning up mess within a home while a man sits around with his feet up, then that would be a problem.”

The ASA has done extensive research on gender stereotyping in advertising, finding that they can “lead to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people‘s lives; outcomes, which are increasingly, acknowledged to be detrimental to individuals, the economy and society in general”. 

Such harm includes, they say, the gender pay gap, unequal representation of women on boards, male suicide statistics and mental health issues arising from body image issues in children and young people. 

Image: HBO

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Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds is a journalist and author based in London. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind, came out in February 2017 with Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently working on her second.  

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