The UK has banned 'harmful' gender stereotypes in adverts

The UK has banned 'harmful' gender stereotypes in adverts

For many years, the image of men as bumbling, irresponsible idiots (and other similarly unhelpful images of women) have been in adverts all over the world and there has been a lot of calls to put an end to these unhelpful stereotypes. Finally, it looks like change is here.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has introduced a new rule banning harmful gender stereotypes in advertising. According to the new rule, which will apply to broadcast and non-broadcast media, [advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.

The introduction of this new rule comes after a review of gender stereotyping in ads which found evidence suggesting that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults and these stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes.

Following the review, a public consultation on specific proposals to ban harmful gender stereotypes was carried out, based on the evidence collected by the ASA. The proposed restrictions was supported by a majority of respondents. However, the evidence does not show that the use of gender stereotypes is always problematic and the new rule does not seek to ban gender stereotypes outright, but to identify specific harms that should be prevented.

According to Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, “Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us. Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential. It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals, and we’re pleased with how the industry has already begun to respond”.

Scenarios in ads likely to be problematic under the new rule include:
  • An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
  • An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car.
  • Where an ad features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the ad should not imply that their physique is a significant reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives.
  • An ad that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g. daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g. caring) needs to be handled with care.
  • An ad aimed at new mums which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing.
  • An ad that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks.

The rule and its supporting guidance doesn’t stop ads from featuring:
  • A woman doing the shopping or a man doing DIY.
  • Glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles.
  • One gender only, including in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender.
  • Gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects.

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