Girl Power: Has it simply gone too far?

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Paul McCann

The advertising industry's watchdog has warned agencies against a trend for so-called "Girl Power" advertisements that show women being violent towards men.

The Advertising Standards Authority issued a warning in its latest monthly bulletin after three advertisements that showed women causing men harm attracted complaints from the public.

A campaign for Lee jeans showed a woman's stiletto-heeled boot pushing on the buttocks of a prostrate naked man under the words "Put the boot in".

It was Lee Jeans who alerted the ASA to the 'Girl Power' trend in its defence of the 'Put the boot in' campaign. Lee told the ASA that the advertisement was acceptable because it reflected a prevailing mood of control and power for women in Britain - and because it was light-hearted.

In another example Nissan, the Japanese car manufacturer, and its advertising agency TBWA Simons Palmer, worried some members of the public with an advert under the strapline "Ask before you borrow it" which showed a man in pain clutching his crotch after being assaulted by his girlfriend.

In another advertisement that attracted complaints men were seen getting into fatal accidents because they had been distracted by women dressed in Wallis clothes. One execution, as they say in advertising, showed an Underground train guard about to be decapitated by a tunnel wall while ogling a woman. The slogan on the ad was "Dressed to kill".

The ASA says it received complaints that the advertisements were offensive, sexist, sadistic and likely to condone violence. In the case of the car and jeans adverts the complainants raised the point that the ads would not have been acceptable if they had portrayed such violence against women.

While the ASA rejected the complaints because it did not believe they were likely to cause "serious or widespread" offence, the watchdog is worried enough to ask advertising agencies planning to use such imagery to call its copy clearance centre first.

"We are not putting out a blanket ban on 'Girl Power' ads," said a spokesman for the ASA. "But we would like to consider on an individual basis the copy of anything that is risque towards men or portrays abuse against them ... it may be that violence against men by women as less of a social problem than men abusing women is something that the public worries less about.

"The complaints we've had serve as a reminder that suggestions of violence in advertisements tend not to find favour with the public, whatever the victim's gender and however humorous the intention."