Banning detrimental gender stereotypes in advertisements

Have you ever thought about how gender stereotypes are constantly and subconsciously enforced upon us? Sometimes it is through the behaviours of parents and school teachers, whilst at other times, it is through particular aspects of certain cultures. Besides, another crucial factor is the advertisement industry. Living in an era where you are constantly in contact with advertisements, it can be inferred that they play a significant role in perpetuating gender stereotypes or in encouraging gender discrimination. And although these gender stereotypes are not present in the majority of advertisements, by banning the relatively small quantity of advertisements that do indeed depict offensive gender stereotypes, we are taking a step in the right direction.

What are some of the most common gender stereotypes depicted in advertisements? Perhaps a woman cleaning whilst a man is having a beer and watching TV? A man struggling to clean his clothes? A woman not being able to drive?

Although some of these advertisements seem harmless on their own, their cumulative effect may have a prejudicial effect on people, especially on children. This is because they subconsciously internalise the depicted assumptions and expectations of how people should look or behave according to their gender. This can have extremely negative consequences, possibly leading to “suboptimal outcomes for individuals and groups in terms of their professional attainment and personal development.”

In 2016, ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and CAP (Committees of Advertising Practice) received several complaints against certain advertisements that perpetuated gender stereotypes or encouraged gender discrimination. Based on these complaints, ASA and CAP decided to conduct a research about gender stereotypes within advertising. Consequently, they also decided to revaluate their rulings and standards to fight this common practice and to guarantee responsible advertisements in the UK. In their research, they discovered six main categories of gender stereotypes:

  1. Roles often associated to a specific gender
  2. Characteristics often associated to a specific gender
  3. Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype
  4. Sexualisation
  5. Objectification
  6. Body image

As a result of the research undertaken by ASA and CAP, harmful gender stereotypes in advertisements have been banned as of June 2019. One example of harmful advertisements is this 2017 Aptamil advertisement included below, which depicts gender based aspirations, such as a baby girl growing up to be a ballerina, whilst a baby boy is growing up to be an engineer.

Although it can be difficult to distinguish the advertisements that are considered harmful from those that are not, the ASA will deal with complaints on a case by case basis, by looking at each ad’s content and context.

In conclusion, this ban on harmful or offensive gender stereotypes in advertisements can be perceived as a victory in the fight towards gender equality, since it is of uttermost importance to stop restricting people’s looks, behaviours, aspirations, preferences or qualities based on their gender.

Francisca Sapinho