On 18 July 2017, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") published a new report which calls for an end to gender stereotyping in advertising. The report comes at the end of an investigation into this issue, during which the ASA consulted academics and specialists, reviewed relevant literature, held seminars with expert stakeholders and conducted research into public opinion.
The process identified six harmful categories of gender stereotypes, including: (1) roles (occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender); (2) characteristics (attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender); (3) mocking people for not conforming to stereotype; (4) sexualisation (portraying individuals in a high sexualised manner); (5) objectification (depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body); and (6) body image (depicting an unhealthy body image). The evidence reveals that, wherever they appear or are reinforced, "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".
Currently, the UK Advertising Codes include rules that prevent ads from generally causing harm and serious or widespread offence, but they do not specifically address gender stereotypes. Therefore, the ASA has concluded that more needs to be done to regulate this area. Chief Executive of the ASA, Guy Parker, has stated that "portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people...while advertising is only one of the many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."
The UK Committee of Advertising Practice ("CAP"), which authors the UK Advertising Codes, is now being tasked to develop new standards for advertisers and marketers which ASA will administer and enforce. The full scope of the standards remains to be seen, but in the meantime CAP has committed to delivering relevant training and advice in good time before the standards come into force in 2018, and to publicly reporting on its progress.