Featuring advertisements with gender stereotypes to sell products is outlawed in the United Kingdom as of last week.
“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us, ” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). “Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential. It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals, and we’re pleased with how the industry has already begun to respond.”
The ASA issued the ban in December giving companies a six month grace period to adjust to the new regulations. Last week that grace period ended with the ASA issuing a statement outlining the policy of their gender stereotype ban.
A specific definition as to what constitutes a gender stereotype in advertising was not provided by the ASA. Instead they state in broad terms, “Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.” (RELATED: Researchers Who Think Voice Assistants Like Siri Perpetuate Gender ‘Stereotypes’ have a Genderless Solution)
Individual examples where gender stereotyping would be forbidden included the following:
- “An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
- An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car.
- Where an ad features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the ad should not imply that their physique is a significant reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives.
- An ad that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g. daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g. caring) needs to be handled with care.
- An ad aimed at new mums which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing.
- An ad that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks.”
The ASA then goes on to cite individual examples where gender stereotypes would not be enforced:
- “A woman doing the shopping or a man doing DIY.
- Glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles.
- One gender only, including in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender.
- Gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects.”
The ban comes as a result of a study the ASA conducted which concluded stereotypes in advertising can have, “real-world psychological, physical, economic, social and political harm for individuals and groups.”
The ASA received major backlash on twitter with writer Jesse Singal tweeting:
Bonkers! Among other new guidelines, it’s now *against the law*, in the UK, for ads to “connect physical features w/success in the romantic or social spheres”
So suggesting that something which apears to be true, empirically, is true is now banned. Okay!https://t.co/GLTqXvSDBn
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) June 19, 2019
The ASA official Twitter account responded to some of criticisms by individual users whilst defending their decision to implement the ban.
Hi Mitch. The ad rules, which have been in place since 1962, have always covered issues around harm and offence. They’re written by the ad industry and we administer them on their, and consumers’, behalf.
— ASA (@ASA_UK) June 20, 2019
Yes it’s our responsibility as the UK ad regulator to administer the rules and make judgements on whether an ad is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. It’s about content & context. Our rules don’t prohibit ads featuring a boy playing football/girl dressed as ballerina.
— ASA (@ASA_UK) June 20, 2019
The ASA will now officially begin reviewing any complaints it receives on “a case-by-case basis.”