Gender stereotypes in advertising will be banned as a result of new guidelines that will be promulgated by the main advertising regulators in the United Kingdom and go into effect in 2018.
In April 2016, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority and Committee of Advertising Practice initiated a project to determine whether existing advertising codes and enforcement took proper account of the relevant evidence regarding gender stereotypes. After analyzing existing literature about gender stereotyping in advertisements, holding seminars with a range of stakeholders and conducting new research into public opinion, the ASA and CAP published a report.
“Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: A report on gender stereotypes in advertising” identified six categories of gender stereotypes: roles (occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender), characteristics (attributes or behaviors associated with a specific gender), stereotype nonconformity (mocking people for not conforming to stereotype), sexualization (portraying individuals in a highly sexualized manner), objectification (depicting individuals in a way that focuses on their bodies or body parts) and body image (depicting an unhealthy body image).
“Gender stereotypes have the potential to cause harm by inviting assumptions about adults and children that might negatively restrict how they see themselves and how others see them,” the report found. “To this end, ads that feature gender stereotypes have the power to cause harm by contributing to unequal gender outcomes, although advertising is understood to be only one of many different factors that contribute, to a greater or lesser extent, to unequal gender outcomes.”
The report noted earlier guidelines that banned ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualize women and girls, and ads that suggest it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin. Nonetheless, it found that more needed to be done.
“However, the evidence suggests that a tougher line needs to be taken on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which, through their content and context, may be potentially harmful to people,” the CAP and ASA said. While the report acknowledged it would be “inappropriate and unrealistic” to prevent ads from depicting a woman cleaning, for example, “new standards on gender stereotypes might elaborate on the types of treatments that might be problematic.”
The report provided three examples of types of depictions that are likely to be problematic: an ad that 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; and an ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.
For the next step, the CAP and ASA said new regulations will be forthcoming. “CAP and the ASA consider the report provides an evidence-based case to strengthen their regulation on the use of gender stereotypes in ads which, through their content and context, might be potentially harmful to people.”
CAP intends to develop new standards, on which it will make public a progress report before the end of 2017. Training and advice on the new standards will be delivered “in good time” before the standards come into force, CAP added.
To read the report, click here.
Why it matters: The U.K. is not the first country to ban gender stereotypes in ads. The new standards will add the country to a list including Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Norway, South Africa and Spain, among others, that prohibits such stereotyping. The United States has a limited restriction in place, with the Children’s Advertising Review Unit enforcing more general guidelines that “advertisers should avoid social stereotyping and appeals to prejudice.”