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2002

New measures announced to crack down on sexist adverts

Adverts that perpetuate sexist stereotypes, from men bungling housework to girls being less academic than boys, will be banned under new rules being proposed by the industry watchdog.

The new crackdown by the Advertising Standards Agency will toughen rules on ads that are deemed to present activities as only appropriate for one gender or another, or that mock those who do not conform to stereotypical gender roles.

It will also toughen rules on ads that “body shame” young women after an outcry over Protein World’s controversial “Beach-body ready” campaign, which was not banned despite a petition with 70,000 signatures claiming that its depiction of a bikini-clad model in an ad for a weight-loss product was socially irresponsible.

The ASA’s new proposals, outlined in a report conducted with research firm GfK, are part of an effort to address pressure to address the portrayal of women in ads in particular.

The project, which the watchdog considers the most comprehensive review of gender stereotyping anywhere in the world, follows a major crackdown on “airbrushing”, which has seen major beauty ads featuring stars like Cara Delevingne, Natalie Portman, and Julia Roberts banned. It has also banned ads featuring “unhealthily thin” models.

Its new proposals will also clarify the existing code relating to ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise women and girls.

“Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children,” said Ella Smillie, lead author of the report. “Such portrayal scan limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”

The ASA said that it is not looking at implementing a blanket ban – it will still be acceptable for ads to feature a woman doing cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks – but there are versions of this type of commercial that will now come under scrutiny.

For example, ads that would probably be banned under the proposed new rules include “showing family members creating a mess while a woman is seen having the sole responsibility cleaning it up”. Ads that suggest an activity is inappropriate for girls or boys because it is stereotypically associated with the other sex would similarly be banned, as would those featuring men “trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks”.

The ASA report, titles Depictions, Perceptions and Harm, found that harmful stereotypes can “restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults”.

“Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA. “While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

The ASA’s report will now be handed to the Committees of Advertising Practice, which sets the UK ad code across all forms of media – from TV and newspapers to billboards and online ads – to develop new standards to be turned into rules and enforced by the ad watchdog.

The review examined gender stereotyping across areas including body image, objectification, sexualisation, gender characteristics and roles and mocking people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

Pressure to address the portrayal of women in ads, in particular relating to objectification and body image, has been building for a number of years.

In 2015, the Sun scrapped Page 3’s topless women after 44 years, a move which came following rising pressure from campaigners including No More Page 3.

Before their virtual extinction at the hands of the internet the lads’ magazine market – led by titles including FHM, Loaded, Nuts and Zoo – found itself confined to top shelves and “modesty bags” by supermarkets feeling the heat of public pressure.

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson waged a long-running campaign against “overly perfected and unrealistic images” of women in adverts.

The push started at the Lib Dem party conference in 2009, which used its first day of debate to discuss the myriad ways that women are increasingly encouraged to “live up to” unrealistic ideals of beauty and imagery that “often trivialises their position within society”.

Ads likely to be banned

Protein World’s Beach Body Ready campaign
The advertising watchdog cleared the highly controversial campaign despite nearly 400 complaints it objectified women and was socially irresponsible. The weight-loss ads featuring a bikini-clad model sparked a huge backlash over alleged “body-shaming” including a protest in London’s Hyde Park and a petition on Change.org that attracted more than 70,000 signatures. The ASA cleared the ads saying it did not think that the image of the model “shame women who had different body shapes into believing they needed to take a slimming supplement to feel confident wearing swimwear in public”. Ironically, it ended out being banned for making misleading health claims about the Protein World supplement.

Cara Delevingne naked for Tom Ford perfume
The model and, more recently, actress appeared on a billboard in east London lying naked on her front with the side of her breast and buttocks visible while holding a bottle of Tom Ford Black Orchid perfume. The advertising watchdog received complaints that it was degrading and objectified women and that the billboard could be seen by children and was close to churches and mosques. The ad was cleared by the ASA, but it was deemed not to be allowed to be displayed within 100 metres of schools.

Sexist Gap ad stereotyping children’s futures
An ad for US fashion chain Gap’s kids brand featured a young boy, “called The Little Scholar”, while the girl featured in the ad is labelled “The Social Butterfly”. Text that ran with the ad, which prompted accusations on social media of sexism, used the line “Your future starts here”. Gap moved to take the ad down and, consequently, the ASA did not have grounds to investigate.