Whip cracked on sexist stereotypes
UK advertising body in bid to put an end harmful gender roles
BRITAIN’S advertising watchdog plans to ban some portrayals of housewives from adverts in a crackdown on sexist stereotypes.
This means that depictions of women being solely responsible for cooking, cleaning and childcare in commercials will disappear on UK televisions.
The changes come from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which argued that these stereotypes were limiting the aspirations of both women and men.
The ASA will also crack down on images that appear to sexualise women or suggest it is acceptable for them to be unhealthily thin.
“A tougher line is needed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which can potentially cause harm,” the watchdog said.
The new regime will, however, not stop the use of all images of housewives, but will mean banning gender stereotypes that are most likely to reinforce assumptions that adversely limit how people see themselves and how others see them.
Just last week, Mothercare, a British retailer which specialises in products for expectant mothers as well as merchandise for children up to eight years old, was criticised for using images of little girls dressed as 1950s housewives to sell toy irons and vacuum cleaners on its website.
And in 2012, a Christmas TV ad by Asda, a supermarket giant, drew more than 600 complaints of sexism when it showed an exhausted mom struggling to buy the presents and tree, decorating the home, wrapping the gifts, writing cards and cooking the festive feast, while the rest of the family had their feet up having fun.
The advert ended with the line: “Behind every great Christmas there’s mum.”
The ASA, however, rejected the complaints on the basis the commercial accurately represented the experience of a significant number of families.
However, most mainstream advertisers have already turned their back on this type of marketing.
Consumer goods giant Unilever has already blocked the depiction of women as sex objects or stereotypical mums under a policy it calls “unstereotype”.
In the past, its Knorr TV adverts used to show a mother and daughter in the kitchen, but they now feature a father and son. It has also dropped its Lynx commercials which featured women in bikinis hunting down young men.
The situation is, however, different in South Africa. Leon Grobler, the manager for dispute resolution at the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (Asasa), said they were aware of the situation in Britain, having read short write-ups on the changes in the UK’s advertising policy.
However, Grobler explained that Asasa was configured differently from its UK counterpart, and did not have the same muscle to intervene proactively.
“Firstly, Asasa is not permitted to proactively campaign for changes. We are only involved when formal disputes are lodged,” Grobler explained.
“However, we do take an active participatory role in industry-related discussions. For example, we have been very involved in discussions around advertising of unhealthy food for children.”
In Asasa’s Advertising Code of Practice, section 3 deals with unacceptable advertising, where section 3.5 deals with gender, and states: “Gender stereotyping or negative gender portrayal shall not be permitted in advertising, unless, in the opinion of Asata, such stereotyping or portrayal is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”
An apt example of Asasa intervening in complaints, Grobler noted, was the case brought against the infamous strip club Teazers last year by Dr Carmen Lee, who complained about the strip club’s billboard on New Road, Midrand, just before the N1 onramp.
The billboard, captioned “Like this?”, featured a woman’s torso wearing a bra with the thumbs-up “like” emoticon on each breast, which Lee found offensive.
Asasa agreed with the complainant, ordering the removal of the advert and asserting: “The model featured in the billboard is not shown, celebrated or even depicted as a woman, but merely as a pair of breasts for people to Like.
“Effectively, her value is illustrated only by means of her breasts, thereby reducing her to a sexual stereotype, which is contrary to what the code intends.”
Over in the UK, Guy Parker, the ASA’s chief executive, said portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society could play a part in bringing about unfair outcomes.
“Tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole,” he said.
‘We are only involved when formal disputes are lodged’
GENDER ROLES: British television presenter Anthea Turner poses in this promotional shot for her show.