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“Harmful” gender stereotypes in UK advertising to be more closely regulated

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The Advertising Standards Authority has released a report providing evidence for stronger regulation of adverts that feature potentially harmful gender stereotypes, “including ads which mock people for not conforming”. The report, titled Depictions, Perceptions and Harm, has instigated the development of new standards on ads with these characteristics, which will be enforced in future.

It is the result of a major review into gender stereotyping in ads, which the ASA says finds evidence that “harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults” which can be reinforced in some advertising. This, it says, plays a part in unequal gender outcomes, “with costs for individuals, the economy and society”.

The review aimed to consider whether current regulations are addressing the potential harm or offence caused by gender stereotypes, and found that “a tougher line” is needed on ads that “are most likely to reinforce assumptions that adversely limit how people see themselves and how others see them”.

New regulations will not ban all gender stereotypes; the report clarifies: “For example the evidence falls short of calling for a ban on ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks.” While the following types of depictions are considered “problematic”: “An ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up. An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa. An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.”

Ella Smillie, lead author of the report, commented: “Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children. Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented.”