New rules set to ban gender stereotyping in adverts

A controversial advert showed girls as ballerinas and boys as scientists.
A controversial advert showed girls as ballerinas and boys as scientists.
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Adverts which portray men unable to change a nappy or a woman struggling to park a car will be banned under new rules laid out by advertising regulators.

The portrayal of “harmful gender stereotypes” will be outlawed in adverts as part of new regulations aiming to crack down on commercials which could impact the aspirations of people watching them.

Under the new rules, adverts that “belittle” a man for carrying out stereotypically “female” roles or tasks would also be banned, while those which emphasise the contrast between a stereotypical personality trait for a boy – such as being daring – with that of a girl – eg caring – need to be “handled with care”.

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) said that any advert 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 would also be banned.

Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP, which is responsible for writing and maintaining the UK Advertising Codes, said: “Harmful gender stereotypes have no place in UK advertisements. Nearly all advertisers know this, but for those that don’t, our new rule calls time on stereotypes that hold back people and society.”

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) said the new rules would apply to broadcast and non-broadcast media – including online and social media – and will come into force from 14 June.

A review into gender stereotyping by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found evidence suggesting that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of young people and adults. It said that gender stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in “unequal gender outcomes”.

Last year, complaints about an advert for baby milk brand Aptamil, which showed female babies growing up to become ballerinas and boys scientists, were not upheld as the ASA did not have the power to act on the grounds of gender stereotypes. Under the new rules, an investigation would be likely to be launched into a similar ad.

Ella Smillie, gender stereotyping project lead for CAP said: “The evidence we published last year showed that harmful gender stereotypes in ads contribute to how people see themselves and their role in society.”

The new rule in the Advertising Codes states: “[Advertisements] must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.”

CAP said, however, that the new regulations would not seek to ban gender stereotypes outright, but to identify specific harms that should be prevented. It said that commercials which depict glamorous, attractive, successful, aspirational or healthy people or lifestyles would continue to be acceptable, while adverts would be allowed to target one gender only.

Meanwhile, the rules said that adverts which use gender stereotypes to target the negative effects of stereotyping would also be acceptable.