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Ban on 'harmful gender stereotypes' — like women who can't park cars, men who can't change diapers — takes effect for UK advertisers

'It's in the interests of women and men, our economy, and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals'

Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

Advertisements that depict "harmful gender stereotypes" — such as women who can't park cars and men who can't change diapers — are now officially banned in the UK.

The new rule from the Committee of Advertising Practice — the regulator tasked with writing UK advertising codes — states that ads "must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offense." The rule applies to broadcast and non-broadcast media, including online and social media, according to the Advertising Standards Authority, CAP's sister organization.

The ASA conducted a review of gender stereotyping and "found evidence suggesting that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations, and opportunities of children, young people, and adults"; its findings were announced last year — and advertisers were given until this year to come into compliance.

The ASA added that it now will deal with complaints "on a case-by-case basis and will assess each ad by looking at the content and context to determine if the new rule has been broken."

What kinds of ads might be problematic?

According to the ASA, the following could be a problem now:

  • "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 [diapers]; 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 emphasize 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 moms which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional well-being."
  • "An ad that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically 'female' roles or tasks."

"Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us," ASA CEO Guy Parker said. "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."

What if advertisers don't comply?

Those who refuse to comply with the updated codes, which is rare, could face sanctions from the ASA.

What's the background?

The ASA was criticized in 2015 for not banning a controversial Protein World advertisement featuring a thin, bikini-clad woman along with the text, "Are you beach body ready?" Despite receiving over 300 complaints, the ASA allowed the ad to remain.

Sexist adverts to come under scrutiny - BBC News youtu.be

However, the ASA said evidence doesn't show that gender stereotypes are always problematic — and the new rule won't be banning such ads completely.

The following scenarios are allowable, according to the ASA:

  • "A woman doing the shopping or a man doing DIY."
  • "Glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational, or healthy people or lifestyles."
  • "One gender only ... in ads for products developed for and aimed at one gender."
  • "Gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects."

CAP will review the new rule after a year to make certain it's "meeting its objective to prevent harmful gender stereotypes," the ASA said.

One last thing…
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