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New Advertising Standards To Combat Ads That 'Mock People For Not Conforming' To Gender Stereotypes

'Significant evidence of potential harm for adults.'

18/07/2017 00:17

New advertising standards are being developed to target ads that feature stereotypical gender roles and “mock people for not conforming”.

A study by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), published on Tuesday (July 18), said a “tougher line” was needed on ads concerning gender stereotypes.

Report leader Ella Smillie said: “Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children. Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take.”

South_agency via Getty Images
New advertising standards are being developed to target ads that feature stereotypical gender roles and 'mock people for not conforming'

She added: ”Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”

The study found: “Overall, young children appear to be in particular need of protection from harmful stereotypes as they are more likely to internalise the messages they see.

“However, there is also significant evidence of potential harm for adults in reinforcing already internalised messages about how they should behave and look on account of their gender.”

The new standards, which the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the authors of the UK Advertising Codes - have been tasked with developing, are “not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes” the ASA said.

Paddy Power
The ASA has previously ruled against a Paddy Power ad on the Cheltenham Ladies Day that portrayed negative stereotypes of transgendered people

The report does not call for a ban on all ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks, but detailed what types of adverts crossed the line. 

The ASA, who will enforce the rules, noted in the report that ads that feature “gender stereotypical roles or characters are unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to their audience”.

Ads likely to breach the new standards will include: 

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.

The ASA often bans ads on the grounds of objectification, inappropriate sexualisation and for suggesting it is desirable for young women to be unhealthily thin.

The CAP will now use evidence from the report to “clarify standards that reflect the ASA’s existing position on ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise women and girls, and ads that suggest it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily-thin”.

The announcement comes after a major review into gender stereotyping in ads which showed that “harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults”. 

The report said these stereotypes can be “reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes, with costs for individuals, the economy and society”.

The review sought to identify whether enough was being done to address the “potential for harm or offence arising from gender stereotypes in ads”. 

To test whether standards are in the right place, the review examined gender stereotyping across several spheres, including body image, objectification, sexualisation, gender characteristics and roles, and mocking people for not conforming to gender stereotypes. 

To reach conclusions, evidence was gathered through a major independent research study by GfK – the findings of which were also published today.

One 14-year-old girl from York said:

“I don’t particularly like the ad because it’s saying a man has to be a certain way, like intense and masculine, very traditional, stereotypical, it’s implying men have to be strong and brave and can’t really back down from anything.

Chief Executive of the ASA, Guy Parker, said of the findings: “Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people.

“While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

CAP will report publicly on its progress by the end of 2017, before the new standards come into force in 2018.

The following ads have been banned by the ASA because of body image, sexualisation and objectification: 

Body image: Guccio Gucci SpA – ad depicted unhealthily thin model

Sexualisation & objectification: Church & Dwight Ltd, Femfresh shaving product – ad overly sexualised and objectified women

Serious offence: Paddy Power Plc – ad portrayed negative stereotypes of transgendered people and was likely to cause serious offence

Between 2015-16, the ASA considered a total of 1,378 cases relating to the depiction of women and men or both - 913 of the cases broadly related to women and 465 to men.

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