A Ban On Gender Stereotyping In Adverts Is Coming Into Force, But Only If The Stereotype Is Considered "Harmful"

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After a lengthy review, an advertising watchdog in the UK has ruled that there will be a ban on gender stereotyping in adverts from June 2019. This is welcome news to any person who has felt frustrated at ads selling cleaning products targeting women or campaigns which mock men for having emotions. The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) has limited the ban to adverts that perpetuate only "harmful" gender stereotypes that are likely to cause widespread or serious offence. Examples of these include any form of advertising that sends the message that girls have less of an academic future than boys and that men struggle with basic household tasks, as well as any ad that shows a man or woman failing at something simply because of their gender.

As the BBC reports, the review found that not all gender stereotypes are "problematic," but that "harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations, and opportunities of children, young people, and adults." It added that adverts can "play a part in unequal gender outcomes" and could stop people from "fulfilling their potential, or from aspiring to certain jobs and industries, bringing costs for individuals and the economy."

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which led the review, already enforced a ban on adverts that focus on gender stereotypes relating to "objectification, inappropriate sexualisation, and depiction of unhealthily thin body images." But this latest ruling is set to promote even more positivity in the advertising industry.

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The committee doesn't want to implement a ban on all adverts that focus on specific gender traits or roles. "There is nothing in our new guidance to suggest that ads can't feature people carrying out gender-typical roles," Ella Smillie, a CAP policy expert, clarified to the BBC. "The issue would be if in that depiction it suggested that that's the only option available to that gender and never carried out by someone of another gender.

"So for example if you had a woman doing the cleaning, we wouldn't anticipate a problem. But if you had an advert with a man creating lots of mess and putting his feet up while a woman cleaned up around him, and it was very clear that she was the only person that did that at home, that's the kind of thing that could be a problem."

The committee also stated that adverts targeted at children or selling children's products would need to be "handled with care," especially if the ad attempted to define a boy or girl's personality using terms like "daring" and "caring."

The ASA review was first announced in the summer of 2017, the BBC reports, after several complaints regarding numerous "sexist" adverts were ignored due to them not breaking any official rules. As the Guardian reports, an advertisement for fashion company Gap tried to sell children's clothes by labelling a young boy as a "little scholar" and a young girl as a "social butterfly." ASA told the BBC that Gap eventually removed the misguided campaign, with a spokesperson telling Marketing Week: "[The] Gap brand has always stood for individuality, optimism and creativity. Our intentions have always been to celebrate every child and we did not intend to offend anyone."

Although the new ban won't come into effect until the middle of next year, it's a clear signal to brands that gender stereotyping is an outdated marketing method and that lazy tropes will no longer be tolerated. After all, if they can't be bothered to depict people as they truly are, perhaps people shouldn't bother to give them their money.