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Sexist Ads Harm People Of Every Gender. Of Course They Should Be Banned

19/07/2017 11:38 BST | Updated 19/07/2017 17:15 BST
AMAYRA via Getty Images

We're all bombarded with advertising everywhere we go. From billboards telling us what to drink, to radio commercials imploring us to buy to new furniture - our every decision is influenced on some level by the incessant use of ads to change the way we behave.

While some adverts are relatively harmless, others clearly use outdated gender stereotypes that aren't just archaic but damaging too.

Only a few months ago a real estate agency was forced to take down an advertisement on the London Underground after an outcry over its depiction of a young woman as a "modern extension" of an older man. Even children are subject to gender stereotypes in advertising. Clarks shoes faced a backlash for claiming boys "test their shoes to destruction" and girls "love comfort and style".

Yesterday's announcement by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of a plan to crack down on sexist advertisements, following an in-depth report on gender stereotypes, is a welcome move.

The social, emotional and economic damage tied to gender stereotyping, objectification and unrealistic bodies in advertising is clear. Evidence from academics and public opinion research included in the report all reached the same conclusion.

One interviewee told researchers that portrayals of women in advertising "makes girls feel like they should become bulimic and anorexic because they feel ashamed of who they are".

Advertising is not the root of all evil but it is a piece of a wider puzzle. We can't solve the problem of sexism in one go but this is a meaningful step in the right direction.

While it is mostly women at the forefront of the debate, sexism hurts us all. Gender stereotyping tells us we don't belong in certain spaces in society or that we're incapable of certain roles. It's outdated, unnecessary and simply wrong. I applaud the ASA for calling out an all too common feature of the advertising we see every day.

For those who cry censorship every time the word 'ban' is even mentioned - it hurts no one to miss out on these harmful images. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to cause harm, especially when you have a platform that can reach thousands or millions of people.

For too long sexism has simply been accepted as part of advertising, and women's bodies treated as a tool with which to sell products. I challenge anyone who sees a perfume advert featuring a naked or nearly naked woman to then tell me what that perfume smells like.

The advertising industry and its clients have one goal, to make money. If a tactic will drive more sales then it will be utilised, no matter how ridiculous the concept or how harmful the effect is.

Our materialist and consumption-driven culture is unsustainable. The Green Party is not afraid to propose bold alternatives and stand up to advertisers whose explicit, sole purpose is to take your money. Maybe it's even time to start questioning why we have product-based advertising at all. It might sound unrealistic, but this is about asking what kind of cities we want to have.

In the meantime, there's plenty more work to be done to ensure the advertising we do have isn't doing more harm than good. For something that pervades almost every aspect our lives - the public transport we take, the websites we visit, the films we watch - it's surprising advertising isn't more regulated.

If anything, regulation is falling further and further behind as advertising executives dream up new ways to manipulate us when we're not expecting it. Dubious product placement in films and television programmes and murky rules around influencer marketing on social media are hugely unhelpful to consumers who have a right to know when they are being deliberately targeted by advertisers. Racist stereotyping is just as much of an issue and ads aimed at children can also be particularly questionable.

For the moment though, the ASA's current work is crucial. If advertisers find it a challenge to produce ads that don't fall back on lazy stereotypes, then perhaps it's time to find a new role. And while advertising remains a part of the world we live in, at least we can look forward to more diversity and reality reflected on our screens.