Adverts With Harmful Gender Stereotypes Now Banned in the U.K.

In a move made by the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA), the United Kingdom has banned advertisements that depict “harmful” gender stereotypes on June 14. Experts hope that the decision will promote gender equality.

According to the report by the ASA, “Gender stereotypes can lead to mental, physical and social harm which can limit the potential of groups and individuals.” Overall, young children are more at risk to internalise harmful stereotypes that they see. However, adults are not exempt from internalising damaging messages that reinforce how they should behave or look based on their gender.  

Earlier, in 2018, the Paris city council similarly banned ads that are “sexist or discriminatory” from being publicly displayed in outdoor spaces in the French capital.

A 2017 study by ASA has led to the recommended ban.

Ads that satirise gender stereotypes will still be allowed. So will innocent depictions of women doing shopping or men doing home improvement, for example. But the use of “[humour] or banter” will not be enough of an excuse to exempt ads from the ban, they said.

Not only does the move ban ads that depict women as weak or in archetypical roles of a housewife, but also those that reinforce personality traits of boys and girls, such as bravery for boys and tenderness for girls; suggest that new mothers should prioritise their looks or home cleanliness over their emotional health; and mock men for being bad at stereotypically “feminine” tasks, such as vacuuming, washing clothes or parenting.

The change comes after multiple incidents of advertisements were withdrawn due to sexist or detrimental portrayal of women’s bodies as well as digitally altered images that exaggerate the effects of the product.

In 2016, a Gucci ad was banned by ASA because of the unhealthily thin waist of the model and her dark makeup, which made her face look gaunt. Cara Delevingne’s campaign with Rimmel mascara in 2017 was banned for using airbrushing to enhance the product’s outcomes.

More recently, in May 2019, the regulatory body took down an ad for a Porche dealer which featured a provocative image of a woman underneath a car with the tag “Attractive Servicing.” With her head obscured, the woman has one leg bent, revealing her upper thigh and crotch, which could read as overtly sexual and objectifying to women.

It is no revelation that the depiction of women in advertisements is sexist and unfavourable. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media worked with Google to analyse more than 2,000 English-language commercials. It found that between 2006 and 2016, the number of female characters in video advertisements remained essentially unchanged but the amount of screen time men had was fourfold that of women, and men spoke about seven times as often as women did.

In India, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 prohibits the indecent representation of women through advertisement or in publications.

Alongside that is the Advertising Standards Council of India (ACSI), a self-regulatory, voluntary organisation of the advertising industry in India and a non-Government body. It is committed to the cause of self-regulation in advertising, ensuring the protection consumer interests.

In 2018, it indicted 191 advertisements by brands such as Hindustan Unilever, Samsung and L’Oreal India as misleading. L’Oreal’s new Garnier ad, featuring actor Alia Bhatt, was pulled for its exaggerated promises of fairness. The claims in the ad, alongside the product, were not found substantial to support the products effects.

It should be noted that neither of these bodies act on advertisements promoting gender stereotypes or sexist content that could be detrimental to society’s expectations of women and the messages about gender roles internalised by children.

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act only prevents obscenity and the ASCI guidelines are for consumer welfare, with no separate guidelines for gender specific issues. Also, ASCI acts upon advertisements already released, and cannot ban a particular type of depiction in the same.

Featured image credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau