New advertising standards in the UK to take tougher stance on gender stereotypes

The new standards will be drawn up by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), according to a new report on gender stereotypes in advertising (64-page / 5.4MB PDF) published by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the watchdog that oversees compliance with UK advertising rules.

The CAP will also look to "clarify standards that reflect the ASA‘s existing regulatory position on ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise women and girls, and ads that suggest it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin", the report said. The CAP will "report publically on its progress" before the end of this year.

According to the ASA's report, research the watchdog carried out found that "a tougher line needs to be taken on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics, which through their content and context may be potentially harmful to people". It said that this includes "ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes".

The watchdog provided examples of the type of adverts that could be prohibited under the new standards.

"It would be inappropriate and unrealistic to prevent ads from, for instance, depicting a woman cleaning, but new standards on gender stereotypes might elaborate on the types of treatments that might be problematic – for example: an ad which depicts family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up; an ad that suggests an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereotypically associated with boys or vice versa; an ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks," it said.

The ASA said that there is "significant evidence" that gender inequality "leads to real-world harms for adults and children", include in "practical, social, emotional and economic ways".

"Evidence demonstrates that reinforcing and perpetuating traditional gender roles can lead to suboptimal outcomes for individuals and groups in terms of their professional attainment and personal development," the report said.

The ASA said that there are "commercial advantages" to advertisers that reject gender stereotypes.

"Some depictions of gender may reinforce stereotypical expectations of male and female capabilities and aspirations, or how people should look and behave as a result of their gender, with potentially harmful outcomes for groups and individuals," the ASA said. "Challenging potentially harmful gender stereotypes may benefit individuals and society as well as resulting in positive consumer engagement for advertisers."

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