The Advertising Standards Authority has reviewed its approach to ads that feature stereotypical gender roles, following the publication of an investigation into gender stereotyping in advertising; the Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report. The report claims that gender stereotyping in advertising causes harm towards individuals, the economy and society.
In 2015, the infamous “Beach Body Ready” advert sparked concerns for the sexualisation and objectification of women in advertising, creating a conversation with ASA about how women are portrayed as desirable based on their bodies:
ASA conducted a review following the complaints, but now the regulators are receiving complaints about ads that feature sexist stereotypes or mock people who don’t follow traditional roles. The new standards are only guidelines and are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes, e.g. there will not be a ban on ads showing a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks. However, subject to context and content considerations, the evidence suggests the following types of depictions are likely to be problematic:
- An ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up
- An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa
- An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks
“CAP will report publically on its progress before the end of 2017 and commits, as always, to delivering training and advice on the new standards in good time before they come into force in 2018.”
So, the ‘guidelines’ suggest that agencies, brands and companies should consider whether the stereotypes shown in their campaigns would “reinforce assumptions that adversely limit how people see themselves and how others see them”. Here is a list of what should be avoided:
- Roles: Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender.
- Characteristics: Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender.
- Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype: Making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way.
- Sexualisation: Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner.
- Objectification: Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts.
- Body Image: Depicting an unhealthy body image.
Ads suggesting specific activities were suitable only for boys or girls are problematic and something ASA advises against. This is a topic I investigated at university for my gender project and for my dissertation exploring masculinity in modern advertising. It’s quite incredible (and worrying) to to dissect the vast range of gendered stereotypes advertising still depicts. There is an enormous list of adverts that have been criticised for depicting masculinity and femininity stereotypically, and here are just a few examples:
Aptamil depicting gendered roles for boys and girls
KFC suggesting anxiety/mental health isn’t manly (the ad has been taken down – sorry for the poor quality!)
GAP portraying only boys as academics
Whilst a lot of people will claim that these guidelines are “over-sensitive” and “PC”, the mocking of women and men and the reinforcement of stereotyped views of gender roles are issues that have gained considerable public interest, with the facts to support the claims:
The move follows a major research project from JWT (New York) and The Geena Davies Institute in the Media which analysed 2,000 ads and found that women in advertising are “humourless, mute and in the kitchen’. According to the research, women are 48% more likely to be shown in the kitchen.
JWT’s recent Women’s Index surveyed 9,000 women and found that 85% of them felt advertising and film needed to “catch up with the real world”. Additionally, since concerns were raised about gender portrayal in advertising, brands have taken a conscious decision to change the way men and women are depicted. Unilever recently teamed up with Mars, Facebook, and WPP to form the Unstereotype Alliance – a group dedicated to purging gender bias from ads – followed by an ‘Unstereotype’ pledge. Following this, they created Dove and Lynx ads which aimed to smash traditional gender roles, and consequently saw a 24% increase in consumer ratings.
Lynx ‘Find Your Magic’ is actually one of my favourite male brand ads:
In a time where we need feminism, diverse masculinity and gender diversity more than ever, I think this is a wonderful idea. The fact that they are guidelines rather than rules also helps show people that based off research, this sets a standard that we should all (not just creatives) adhere to when it comes to gender. Sort of like a moral code.
It’s hard to believe that 40+ years after the Sex Discrimination Act we are still seeing gender discrimination on our screens.
Often, I wonder if people are becoming desensitized to feminism because a large majority of people actually believe that women have equal rights just because we won the right to vote or can become a CEO. When it reality, we are far from gender equality – salaries aren’t the same, women and discriminated against and girls are still sexualised.
So if you think this is “over-sensitive”, you need to EDUCATE YO’SELF!