The UK Banned Sexist Ads that Promote Harmful Gender Stereotypes

This could change the way children view themselves and their futures.

Jul 7, 2019

Our gender does not have to influence what we can or cannot do. This outdated stereotypical concept is changing in the way we educate children and in the way the wage gap is getting narrower.

But this has been slow to change in advertising. We see ads showing women doing all the cooking and cleaning while men are relaxing on the couch watching the game after work. Or men who can't figure out how to diaper a baby. Or ads showing that women have to diet to get into a bikini for summer in order to be attractive to men. We've seen them on TV, in publications or in public spaces like bus stops. But in the UK, not for much longer.

That's because these ads all promote negative gender stereotypes and can no longer appear in advertising in the UK due to the new rule in the advertising code by the Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) – which controls what can and can't be advertised – that was announced in December 2018 and now taking effect.

This will apply to broadcast and non-broadcast ads that include printed materials, as well as online and social media advertising. These changes follow a review of gender stereotyping ads by the ASA following public furor over a 2015 subway poster that asked women, "are you beach ready?" The ad that was for a weight loss program was later banned for its health claims, ASA spokesman Craig Jones told CNN.

The review that found evidence that suggests stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations, and opportunities of children and young people. This plays a role in unequal gender outcomes, according to an ASA statement.

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us.  Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential," said Guy Parker, CEO of the ASA in the statement. "It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals, and we’re pleased with how the industry has already begun to respond.”

Gender-specific ads are not prohibited, like feminine hygiene ads for women or showing women doing something stereotypical like shopping. However, ads that portray harmful stereotypes will not be allowed. This includes a man or woman who is unable to complete a task, like changing the oil in a car or changing a baby's diaper or one that belittles a man for being "feminine" or a woman for being "masculine" because of the tasks they are doing.

According to the ASA, the organization will determine if an ad goes against the new regulations on a case-by-case basis. Then after 12 months, the results of the new rule will be reviewed to make sure it's meeting its objective of preventing harmful gender stereotypes.

Other countries are rolling out laws that prevent gender discrimination in advertising according to Good. Norway was the first when it passed a law in 1978 and in 2004, Spain outlawed degrading images of women's bodies. Belgium, France, Finland, Greece, South Africa, and India all have restrictions on sexism in ads.

Changing the way, we represent women— and men too— in advertisements can change the way we view women in real life. This will present women in a less sexually charged manner and will go a long way to empower girls and women to reach for the stars or into the ocean depths.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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