Depictions of girls as less academic than boys or men being belittled for “unmanly” behavior will be soon be a thing of the past in British commercials.
The new rules, announced Friday by advertising watchdog the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), ban companies from including “gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense” in their ads on TV, radio, websites and in print.
Advertisers will have to tread carefully in scenarios the watchdog cites as problematic. These include commercials that show a man with his feet up while a woman cleans; a man or woman failing at a task because of their gender; suggestions that a person’s physique has held them back from romantic or social success; or a man being belittled for performing stereotypically “female” tasks.
The change will come into force on June 14, 2019, following a review by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) — a regulator that administers the advertising codes issued by CAP.
The review found harmful stereotypes, which can be reinforced by advertising, “can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults.”
“Harmful gender stereotypes in ads contribute to how people see themselves and their role in society,” Ella Smillie, the lead on CAP’s gender stereotyping project, said in a statement. “They can hold some people back from fulfilling their potential, or from aspiring to certain jobs and industries, bringing costs for individuals and the economy.”
‘Beach body ready?’
The public furor over a 2015 poster on the walls of London’s subway system, showing a woman in a bikini with the words “Are you beach body ready?,” prompted the regulator to look into all gender portrayals in British advertising. The ad — for a weight-loss product — was not banned by ASA, as it did not explicitly break any rules, but the regulator eventually banned it for its health claims, ASA spokesman Craig Jones told CNN.
While some on social media have dismissed the move as too politically correct, Jones called on critics to look at the evidence of “real-world harms of people not living up to their full potential” due to many factors, including sexual stereotypes in advertising.
Economic harm from stereotypes
He said there are “solid” examples of economic harm, including staff shortages in the engineering profession. “People who represent engineers in this country said to us they believe one of the factors contributing to a labor shortage… is too few women are going into it,” he said. “They think the role of advertising presenting engineering as a male role is partly to blame.”
The watchdog emphasized that the new guidance does not bar commercials from featuring “glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles,” as seen in the many perfume ads that line the billboards. It isn’t a ban on “products developed for and aimed at one gender,” it said, or the use of “gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects.”