Gender Stereotypes in British Advertisements Come Under Fire

By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor

Advertisements that promote gender stereotypes are under increased scrutiny.  Think, for example, of the baby formula ad showing a little girl that grows up to be a ballerina while a little boy anticipates his interest in mathematics.  Now, Britain is paving the way to help minimize gender stereotypes by banning sexist ads.  The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released a report on July 18, 2017, (“Depictions, Perceptions and Harm”) following a major review of gender stereotyping in advertising.

Photo credit: charlie vinz, CC BY 2.0

The report points out that gender stereotypes invite assumptions that negatively restrict how adults and children see themselves and how others see them, leading to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people’s lives.  These outcomes are increasingly acknowledged to be detrimental to individuals, the economy, and society in general.

Accordingly, Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA, said: “Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people.  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.”

Indeed, evidence presented in the report makes the case for stronger regulation of ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which might be harmful to people, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.  Ella Smillie, lead author of the report, said that tougher standards will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.

The report acknowledges that it’s inappropriate and unrealistic to prevent ads from, for instance, depicting a woman cleaning, but new standards on gender stereotypes might consider problematic ads that, for example, depict family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up, or suggest that an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereotypically associated with boys or vice versa, or feature a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

The ASA’s report will be handed to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets British advertising standards across all forms of media—from TV and newspapers to billboards and online ads.  The CAP will develop new rules, starting later this year, and the ASA will then enforce them.

CAP will also use the evidence presented in the report to clarify standards that reflect the ASA’s existing regulatory position on ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualize women and girls, and ads that suggest it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin.

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14 comments

  1. It’s very comforting to see that some a nation is finally taking a step in helping women even in what can be perceived as such a simple way like this. Western culture seems to have stagnated in helping women become equal since the 70’s, and on certain platforms I have even seen some go so far so to argue that women should just be grateful with how well we have it now compared to other nations instead of ‘whining’ about the stagnation. That argument is flawed in the fact that just because someone else has it worse doesn’t make your suffering any less and not only that but by furthering ourselves we help promote new ideas onto other women around the world, especially with the help of technology and social media so that they can also fight like us for themselves. England’s stance on ads feels like a step in the right direction. By telling companies they can no longer present ads in a way that play to these gender stereotypes isn’t just a step for women, but for all of British society. Ads play a big role in our world today in promoting anything and everything and their influence is wide among several facets of people, by telling those that they can no longer promote unhealthy ideas helps to stop perpetuating these ideas. I can only hope that the U.S and other western cultures will follow suit with this idea of changing ads.

  2. Does portraying gender stereotypes in commercials have a lasting impact on how a girl’s think of themselves?
    I have lived in two countries, but I grew up in India. Growing up in India I have seen my fair share of commercials that portray gender stereotypes. For example, little kids can always count on their mother hanging around with detergents to clean up mud stains from their kid’s clothes. What about men? Well, I have seen men building stuff, buy insurance, and plan for their retirement so they can take their housewives on vacation. I would be lying if I said watching commercials like these has not affected who I am and what I believe in. When it comes to school, I have always had confidence in myself to tackle everything except math and physics problems. Even though I am not bad at math, I have always second guessed myself after every math test. The problem is I have always thought that being a physicist or a mathematician or and technical carriers belong to guys and I am supposed to be a doctor, teacher or a housewife. These commercials portray guys taking care of financial needs, and that has led me to believe that I should probably let a man take care of financial stuff until now.
    Banning sexist ads will immensely help to shape and influence young children’s mind because they will not be predisposed to stereotypical roles. The mission to end gender stereotypes just begins with setting advertisement standards; we need to educate parents, teachers, etc. so they can shape the opinions of the future generation.

    • Thank you for your depiction of your experience in India! In that aspect, it sounds similar to the US’s advertisements. I honestly cannot think of any commercials that blatantly break stereotypes other then the occasional single father cleaning the house. It feels like the whole world has a long ways to go. I also had the same exact experience with math. I was so unconfident even though I was talented. I could not see my talent at all and I think our sexist culture played a huge role in that because I could be very confident in my stereotypically female abilities such as literature and acting. I agree that free speech is important but I do not think that large corporations and the media should have the same right since their job is pretty much to manipulate the masses. This kind of power should be monitored to make a positive influence on society such as breaking stereotypes. Who knows where we would be if we hadn’t thought math was a man’s talent. Girls of the future should not be plagued with this doubt.

  3. I completely agree with m.Flores’s statement that Western culture seems to have come to a halt in regards to ending sexism. I believe that part of the problem lies with the comfortability we sometimes hold as the women of today; we have this assumption that since there is more equality for women now than in the past, we are done promoting equalization. This assumption keeps us in this stagnant state that prevents us from fully advancing as a society and creating an environment where women are truly equal to men. As Flores stated, some individuals, men, in particular, believe that we have nothing to complain about. There are of course women in other parts of the world who face more difficult and restricting situations. Yet, that fact does not diminish the trials that women in the Western world face. All women who stare sexism in the face are victims to this age-old crime and are obliged to take a stand for their rights. I am grateful that the ASA has taken the necessary steps to try and erase the gender stereotypes typically depicted in advertisements. This will hopefully provide an example for other nations to take necessary steps in order to bridge the gender equality gap.

  4. I absolutely adore the fact that Britain is taking initiative, and stepping up in the idea of avoiding sexist ads. They have gone deep down, and understood as to why it psychological makes individuals have negative connotations based on the ads they see. By taking control of this gargantuan on-going issue, Britain is making a huge stride as a nation. Even more importantly, they are leaders, exemplifying how nations should treat this situation to work together and make the world a better place. If one nation ignites positive change, it is not long before the rest of the countries learn that it is important to follow.

  5. I, as others have commented, agree that what ASA is doing is great. Although I have not personally felt like ads have influenced me and what I feel I can do, I know that it can influence others greatly as it has with Vaidehi and her upbringing in India. Children are the future, and as cliche as that sounds, it is true. The views and opinions that children are exposed to at a young age shape their ideologies and beliefs and when they grow up to be adults, as a population and as citizens, these views affect these adults’ decisions. These children grow up to become politicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, parents, policemen, judges, etc. and their beliefs affect their decisions and what they advocate for. A whole nation’s environment and culture can shift from one generation’s ideologies and we are currently seeing this with millennials and the political environment occurring right now in America. Some might seem advertisements as a minor influence on children, but the consequences of media can be tenfold. Because the ASA is taking the time to work on making more unbiased gender ads, Britain has increased its children’s chances of growing up with decreased biased views of gender and hopefully, decreased ideas of what they can do when they grow up regardless of gender.

  6. I believe that what the ASA is trying to do is a great first step in eliminating gender biases on television. Ads that have characters playing into stereotypical gender roles may not seem like a big deal, but ads are almost everywhere, and this generation is living in the age of technology. Ads can be found in between tv shows, on the radio, and all over social media, so people are constantly being bombarded with gender biases rather they know it or not. These ads can unknowingly impose pressure to adhere to inappropriate gender roles. Ads that only depict woman doing chores can cause children growing up to feel like woman belong in the house and nowhere else. Being that Britain is a major power country, this step can hopefully influence other countries to follow suit, and make regulations against sexist ads.

  7. As a psycology major and previous communications major, i have since recognized the detremental impact that advertisements can have on the human mind. For this reason, i stand behind this British companies efforts to stop ads that present women in a outdated and stagnent fashion. When there is a a focus on sexualizing women the reality of a truly modern society can not be showcased. I personally was unable to recall any immediate instances where advertisements had a direct influence on my thoughts as a woman. They have played a huge role for a good friend of mine but in the opposite way. He as a young high schooler looked to cheerleading as a empowering sport for everyone. As tryouts approched, he shyed away because of the negativity society inflicted on him about the desire. He told me how on every television series, a boy tries out for the cheerleading team just to get a girlfriend or see them undress. He pointed out that on movies, the cheerleading squad was always comprised of beautiful women but no men. I myself even realized that year when i went shoppng for holloween customes that all the ones for cheerleaders were modeled by young, skinny blonde girls. As if all this was not enough for my friend, his girlfriend at the time, threatened to break up with him if he wants to “be a girl” and cheerlead. Needless to say he did not tryout that year and fell victem to the gender stereotyping put for by society and its ads. Not to worry however, because the following year he went out and is now an amazing cheerleader. The last time we spoke, he was a coach at a cheerleading gym! I beleive that if groups like this one surfaced globally, more occurances like my friends will be seen amongst everyone.

  8. I love what the ASA is doing for equal gender representation in the media. In this new modern age, we live in it essential to have proper representation in an advertisement. The Western world should adopt some of these ad regulations. The world is changing we no longer live in a world where only men work, and women take care the home. In today’s society, women are more than just caregivers; women are entrepreneurs, basketball players, neuroscientist, and so much more. Also, men today, are sharing the role of taking care of the home, such as soccer dads, and stay at home fathers. It’s time that advertisement across the Western world, represent the modern day women and man. When children see women and men in a different perspective then the mainstream media; this will inspire children to grow up and follow different careers from there stereotypical norms.

  9. I like how Nancy added the fact of how seriously advertising can affect the mind, because this is sometimes forgotten in society. From experience, many boys do not find women incapable, but they truly believe that it’s a man’s responsibility to do jobs such as finance. This was the system they probably grew up with, which led them to believe that. We need to promote women doing “man” jobs, and I think the ASA is taking a great step by getting rid of stereotyping ads (but this is just a step). It needs to go beyond just getting rid of those ads, and start showing women in “men’s” roles and vice versa. If there is more promotion of women doing these jobs, I think there will be more belief that this is a normal way of life. As for men that currently believe women are incapable, I don’t think there is any way to really change that, as most of these men are older and had this idea instilled in them. That is why it is imperative to target this generation of young adults and the next generation (children) with non-stereotypical ads. This age group is the most influential and will be the start of change. My real question is: is there a program like this in the States? Personally, I can’t recall any sexist ads, but it’s still important for the U.S to have a program like the ASA. As M. Flores stated, we need to move past this stagnation.

  10. As my peers expressed, I praise the British for taking a step forward and actively try to diminish stereotyping in advertisements in the country by “banning sexist ads”, which includes “ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.” I like the sentiment Vaidehi expressed that “we need to educate parents, teachers, etc. so they can shape the opinions of the future generations”; however, I think this will be difficult to implement. Feeding off of what Micheala said, I do believe there is complacency within our society. People believe there is already equality, because both men and women can work and vote, so what else is there? Lastly, I find it disheartening to know that Nancy’s male friend didn’t pursue cheer-leading while in high school. There would have been so many scholarship opportunities for him, because there are so few male cheerleaders. Although, it is nice to know he followed his passion and is now teaching others as a cheerleading coach.

  11. It has been fifty-seven years since the women’s movement fought for inequality and discrimination. However, the fight continues and is impacted by the gender biases depicted in the media. The advertising industry has the power to influence ideas, styles, and choices. As such, this media can directly determine and shape individual views regarding gender roles. In light of the fact that we are living in a time where people are opting not to conform to predetermined societal norms related to their possibilities and opportunities, it is timely that Britain has taken a stand against advertisement that endorses gender-specific stereotyping.

  12. It is great that Britain is at the frontline of altering the perceptions of gender roles. Advertisements do play a major role in inserting a mindset of what ought to be when really there are no limitations on any gender. Banning sexist ads will reduce the doubt of achieving a goal based on gender. This change is leading the path for a generation of individuals to wonder and achieve. Will this make a drastic change on the mindset of young individuals? There should be a study that monitors children growing up in this environment in Britain compared to a country where this banning is not present. Other factors are obviously still apparent but is the banning of advertisements a significant factor? This is an important step forward in the right direction, hopefully other nations will soon follow and impact their own citizens.

  13. I appreciate the efforts of ASA! We need to understand the psychological pressures we put on our society, men and women when it comes to gender normalities. In this day and age we need to accept the fact that we can no longer bound males and females by activities, actions, or descriptions. Gender roles place a lot of pressures on young girls and boys. We need ensure that the same attitudes are possessed in the homes of the community as well. If boys and girls are still given different chores, expectations, and treatments, then what is the point of changing a couple of commercials? I believe that Britain is showing the rest of the world progression, but commericials are only a minor step. There is more to it than just ballerinas and scientists, it is who is leading and who is following. It needs to be a collective effort in all aspects of life.

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