Chasing gender stereotypes out of advertising once and for all

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Would you look at that, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced it is going to crack down on advertisements that reinforce unhelpful gender stereotypes.

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A useless man shocked at the sight of a steam iron. Such imagery may become a thing of the past thanks to the Advertising Standards Authority.

I am no fan of big or intrusive Government. I’m no fan of red tape of unnecessary regulation. On this occasion, I think the ASA has got it right.

When it comes to print and television advertising, I personally feel there’s a lot of bad practice out there. My particular interest is in the parenting and lifestyle sector and I’ve long felt that unhelpful gender  stereotypes are frequently used and that advertisements are unrepresentative of the wider world.

How often do you see single parents, same sex couples or step-relatives in advertisements? Individuals from ethnic minorities are also frequently thin on the ground.

This is before we even get on to what the ASA is really interested in: the stereotype of the dad who is incapable of changing a nappy or the mum whose role is simply to clear up after her messy family. Of most concern to me are the toy advertisements that show girls cooking and cleaning while boys are superheroes (I won’t labour this point, but please do add your own dreary stereotype to this list).

As from next year, the ASA is going to take a much closer look at commercials to see if they reinforce stereotypes. ASA chief executive Guy Parker explained it thus: “Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people.”

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Okay, he may be getting the hang of this.

The ASA has made clear that women will still be seen washing up and men changing car wheels. Advertisements will, however, need to be balanced.

Mum may be doing the washing up, but dad could be in the background putting the clean dishes away, for instance. Depicting DIY as an all-male preserve will also be a big no-no. It strikes me as a sensible balance.

When it comes to advertising aimed at kids, I am delighted to hear greater balance will be expected. If I think of my two daughters, they love running around the house dressed as princesses and they are quite fond of the colour pink.

In addition to this, they both love karate, Izzy enjoys football, Helen is getting increasingly into computer coding and give Helen a tree to climb and she could race a squirrel to the top. In my opinion, print and television advertising is often black and white; it rarely reflects the society it is selling to and, sadly, girls are all too often portrayed as quiet and thoughtful while boys frequently active and outgoing.

There are, of course, good examples out there. BabyBjörn springs to mind for the way it portrays mums and dads using its baby carriers. I recall Tesco recently ran a television commercial featuring a single dad and Sainsburys has run commercials featuring children with disabilities (more here on the rather brilliant DownSideUp blog).

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Man successfully uses steam iron! Expect more of this on your television and in your Sunday supplements in future.

At heart, I am a free marketer. I’d like to think all companies and brands would promote their products in a way that didn’t reinforce stereotypes.

Alas, I don’t I don’t think we’re quite there yet. In this instance, I think a touch of regulation may be no bad thing to make print and television advertisements that bit more representative of what goes on in most homes.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Is the ASA correct to insist on greater balance in advertisements? Please do leave a comment below with your thoughts and ideas.


4 thoughts on “Chasing gender stereotypes out of advertising once and for all”

  1. I really do think we need greater balance and to all see ourselves represented in advertising. I think for a while things seemed to be getting worse than ever, particularly as you say in the toy arena. So let’s live in hope that things will becoe a little more realistic now. Thanks for giving Downs Side Up a nod, oh, and loving the comedy ironing sequence!

    1. Glad you liked the ironing images Hayley. I do see some movement backwards in the toy arena. I’d like to think a little regulation would help although this is so much bigger than simply gender. Always happy to give DownSideUp a nod.

  2. One issue with gender roles now is that they have become such a norm in life that we sometimes reinforce them subconsciously… Like for my daughter, I had been buying her loads of fluffy animals and toys like that. When she didn’t play with them, I assumed it was because she was a kid and got bored easily…

    But one day she picked up a police car and fire engine toy from the toy department… She still plays with them! At the point, I realised that I had been subconsciously following the gender stereotype and accidentally forcing it upon her. That stopped there and then!

    1. You are absolutely correct Gareth. We can all be guilty (if that’s the right word to use) of unconscious bias. The trick is to recognise it an modify your behaviour.

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