In Brief

‘Negative gender stereotypes’ to be banned from UK adverts

Advertising Standards Authority says sexist depictions ‘can restrict opportunities’ and inflict economic harm

Advertisements featuring gender stereotypes that are “likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence” are to be banned in Britain from June next year, the country’s advertising watchdog has announced.

The new regulations are aimed at depictions of men and women apparently struggling to perform a task because of their sex, “such as a man unable to change a nappy or a woman unable to do DIY”, The Guardian reports.

The rules will cover adverts in newspapers, magazines, on television, in cinema, on leaflets and on the internet, the newspaper adds.

The crackdown is the result of a recent review of gender stereotyping in commercials by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and sister organisation the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). The study found that “harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults”, and that these stereotypes can be “reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes”.

ASA spokesman Craig Jones told CNN that such stereotyping had resulted in “solid” examples of economic harm, such as staff shortages in certain industries.

“People who represent engineers in this country said to us they believe one of the factors contributing to a labour 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 ASA is “aware that it is likely to face criticism over the new rules from people who feel they are too politically correct”, says The Guardian.

But Ella Smillie, the lead on CAP’s gender stereotyping project, insists that the regulations are simply “reflecting the changing standards in society”. She continued: “Changing ad regulation isn’t going to end gender inequality but we know advertising can reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, which can limit people’s choices or potential in life.”

Warning that advertisers could no longer use comedy as a defence, she added: “Tired old tropes don’t really work with consumers any more. The use of humour or banter is unlikely to mitigate against the potential for harm.

“It’s fine to show people undertaking gender-stereotypical roles such a woman cleaning. But if an advert showed a woman being solely responsible for cleaning up mess within a home while a man sits around with his feet up then that would be a problem.”

Meanwhile, a statement on the ASA website emphasises that the aim is not to prevent ads from featuring “glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles”, nor the use of “gender stereotypes as a means to challenge their negative effects”.

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