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Men can wash dishes too part 2: Ban on harmful gender stereotyping comes into force

Posted on 23 July 2019

Men can wash dishes too part 2: Ban on harmful gender stereotyping comes into force

We reported in the July 2018 edition that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was proposing to create a new rule in the CAP code banning harmful gender stereotyping. Fast forward almost a year, and the new rule came into force on 14 June 2019.

So, what is harmful gender stereotyping? Many will consider that the question is somewhat subjective, and can differ from culture to culture. In its press release announcing the new rule coming into force, the ASA provides some examples of conduct which would be subject to the ban, and areas where advertisers need to proceed with caution:

  • An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
  • An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change nappies; a woman’s inability to park a car.
  • Where an ad features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the ad should not imply that their physique is a significant reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives.
  • An ad that seeks to emphasise the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g. daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g. caring) needs to be handled with care.
  • An ad aimed at new mums which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing.
  • An ad that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically ‘female’ roles or tasks.

Whilst the CAP code is a voluntary code of conduct, non-compliance is not advisable, given that the ASA can request that ads are pulled off the air, revoke trading privileges, require pre-vetting of marketing materials before publication, and request search engines to remove infringing paid for ads.

In addition, if the ASA considers an advert to be misleading, it can refer the advertiser to Trading Standards, the legal backstop for enforcement against misleading advertising.

However, it is also worth noting that the rule does not prevent gender stereotypes in adverts outright. It specifically intends to protect against the harm that negative stereotypes have on society. The new rule comes at a time where there is pressure on advertisers to consider the long-term impact their ads may have on society, and the potential for social harm. Whilst the ASA has timetabled reviewing the new rule in 12 months' time, it is unlikely we will really see if this new rule has had an impact for a number of years.

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