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U.K. Bans Advertisers From Using Gender Stereotypes to Market Products

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Jun 17, 2019

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Advertisements have long reflected — and to a certain extent, informed — gender roles in society. For decades, healthy food commercials have shown a woman caressing a child’s head, smiling fondly at them while they slurp soup at the kitchen table, while the dad either lounges on the couch or is completely absent from the scene. Such ads, replete with gender stereotypes that harm women’s place and perception in society, have just been banned by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority. The ban on gender stereotypes applies to broadcast media, as well as to online and social media. 

The U.K. follows on the heels of France, Norway, South Africa and India, the New York Times reports. However, such stipulations for women’s representation in Indian ads only goes as far as to limit women’s “indecent” or “obscene” portrayals. For example, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act of 1986 bans women’s “indecent” exposure, “which means the depiction in any manner of the figure of a woman; her form or body or any part thereof in such way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to, or denigrating women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals.” Given Indian society’s obsession with women’s clothes, which in the aftermath of rape cases is a hotly contested subject, it’s laughably predictable that the only “gender stereotyping” Indian regulatory authorities want to prohibit is when women are made to show skin, lest it violate long-standing patriarchal traditions and make our eyeballs bleed. 

The U.K. ban on gender stereotypes in ads sounds slightly more promising. It’s based on a review of advertisements conducted by the ASA, which showed that “harmful stereotypes restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults and these stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes.” 


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Some examples of portrayals that will be banned are: an ad that normalizes the burden of housework on women; portrayals of gender-stereotypical characters, such as women being bad at driving, or men not knowing how to change diapers; depictions of an individual’s romantic or social failure as a direct result of how they look; ads that glorify courage or bravery in boys, and gentleness or caring in girls; or depictions of men being belittled for being or doing anything stereotypically “feminine.” 

These examples signal just how far away India is from acknowledging, identifying and correcting the wrongs the advertising industry perpetuates every day: fairness and anti-acne creams are riddled with socially shunned “ugly” girls who become miraculously popular overnight after using the products; toilet cleaner commercials always spotlight women who get bizarrely excited about shiny, mirror-like commodes; and soft drink ads always depict the product transforming its male drinker into a world-class dirt biker or death-defying adventure sport enthusiast. 

The U.K. ban on gender stereotypes will address the above issues in advertisements but will refrain from imposing too strict a rubric on all ads with gender stereotypes. For example, ads that tackle gender stereotypes in satirical ways or aim to raise awareness about their detrimental effects will be allowed to air. 

“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 ASA, said in a statement. “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.”

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

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