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End of gender stereotyping in UK advertising


ASA, report, gender stereotyping, advertisements, negative effects, new rules, Gender stereotypes in advertisements ‘have the potential to cause harm’, says report.

In April 2016 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched a project looking into gender stereotyping in advertisements to test whether the UK Advertising Codes and the ASA’s enforcement of them take proper account of the relevant evidence base, including the views of the general public.

The project identified six categories of gender stereotypes: body image, characteristics, objectification, roles, sexualisation, and mocking those who do not conform to stereotypes.

And it looked at the position taken by both ASA and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) on these categories in relation to adults and children and whether, in line with their regulatory objectives, they were doing enough to address the potential for harm or offence arising from the inclusion of gender stereotypes in advertisements.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is the self-regulatory body that creates, revises and enforces the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing (CAP Code).

The Advertising Standards Authority is the independent body responsible for administering the CAP Code and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising, the BCAP Code, and ensuring that the self-regulatory system works in the public interest.

These Codes require that all advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

The ASA assesses complaints from the public and industry.

The ensuing report, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm, concluded that 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.

These assumptions, it said, can lead to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people‘s lives; outcomes, which are increasingly acknowledged to be detrimental to individuals, the economy and society in general.

It also concluded that advertisements that feature gender stereotypes have the potential 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.

It considered that it would be inappropriate and unrealistic to prevent advertisements from, for instance, depicting a woman cleaning, but said that new standards on gender stereotypes might elaborate on the types of treatments that might be problematic – and used as examples:

An advertisement which depicts family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up;

An advertisement that suggests an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereotypically associated with boys or vice versa; and

An advertisement that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

Responding to evidence in this report, CAP will now develop new standards on advertisements that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics, which, through their content and context, might be potentially harmful to people.

This includes advertisements that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

CAP will also use the evidence in this report to clarify standards that reflect the ASA‘s existing regulatory position on advertisements that objectify or inappropriately sexualise women and girls, and advertisements that suggest it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin.

Publishing this research now is the first step towards updating how the ASA regulates gender stereotyping in advertising. CAP will now consult on how to implement the findings of this report, and will be making announcements as the year progresses.

In addition to this, later this year, the ASA and CAP will review how advertising meets its obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty and what further steps can be put in place to achieve those obligations. This will provide an opportunity for the system to consider its approach to all protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010.

Earlier this year we reported that 25 international industry leaders had come together and affirmed their commitment to a global and universal agenda to tackle unhelpful and harmful gender stereotypes in advertising.

They formed the Unstereotype Alliance, which was co-convened by UN Women and Unilever, and met for its inaugural meeting during the 2017 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on 20 June – and agreed to develop a roadmap and tools to set standards for content creation and achieve progressive gender portrayals.

Speaking to Marketing Week about the ASA report, its lead author, Ella Smillie, said there are multiple factors that influence society’s view on gender roles, she admitted that advertising can affect people’s expectations of how others should “look or behave” according to their gender.

The ASA’s research, she said, “demonstrates that gender inequality is an issue for society at large, and that stereotyping can play a role reinforcing this.

“Advertising is not the only influence but does play a role, and it’s right that we identify where there’s a potential for harm.”

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