In the U.K., advertisers will no longer ask women if they are “beach body ready,” and no more will men appear perplexed by basic tasks like doing the laundry, preparing dinner, or changing diapers. That’s because the country’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned sexist messaging in commercials, eliminating ads that portray men as being clumsy when performing household tasks, ads that suggest a particular physical ideal leads to success, and ads that imply women are responsible for household tasks, the New York Times reports,
The regulations, announced in December, are now fully in effect. The ASA will enforce the rule by reviewing ads on a case-by-case basis, but offered examples of scenarios that are “likely to be problematic,” such as:
- 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.
Britain joins a growing list of countries and cities that have banned sexist ads, including Stockholm, which last year voted to ban ads that “present women or men as simply sex objects”, “show a stereotypical image of gender roles”, or “in any other demeaning fashion are obviously sexually discriminatory,” per the Independent. Other countries, like Norway, Spain, and Australia, have laws or guidelines that ban ads that perpetuate gender discrimination or portray gender-based violence.
At the time the law was passed, local politicians in England hoped it would dissuade companies from creating sexist ads. “Maybe the companies won’t put up ads which are sexist or objectifying if they know we’re going to remove them after 24 hours,” said Daniel Helldén, the Green Party deputy mayor. Britain began its crackdown on harmful messaging in ads in 2017, after the ASA released a report finding that the agency was not doing enough to combat “the potential for harm or offense arising from the inclusion of gender stereotypes in ads.”
Gender stereotypes are ubiquitous in advertising. An analysis on gender bias in film in English-speaking countries by Google and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that of “all commercials featured women on screen for 20% or less of their duration,” a statistic which remained virtually unchanged over a ten year period, from 2006 to 2016. “Men speak about seven times more than women,” the study found. Collectively, the invisibility of women and coded messages about what they can and cannot do harm people of all genders. According to research by the The Fawcett Society, a U.K.-based gender equality advocacy group, 69 percent of surveyed men aged under 35 said “that gender stereotyping of children has a damaging effect on perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman.”
“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us,” Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, said in a statement. “Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential.”