ASA's ban on gender stereotyping in ads: Belated but very welcome

It was announced on the day of the 100th anniversary of women over 30 getting the vote 

Friday 14 December 2018 12:11
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Sexist advertising:  The NAT Group's tweet promoting the new 'ride me all day' service
Sexist advertising: The NAT Group's tweet promoting the new 'ride me all day' service

‘A happy accident’, is how the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) described the fact that its announcement of a ban on gender stereotyping in ads came on the same day people were celebrating the 100th anniversary of women first getting the vote.

The serendipitous measure was introduced in response to a steady flow of complaints about such behaviour by advertisers that, surprisingly, wasn’t previously covered by a specific rule.

What we are treated to today is rarely quite so blatant as some of the frankly appalling commercials you can find in complications of awful ads on YouTube. I browsed some of them before writing this. They were enough to make me wince.

Then I checked out some of the dates on them. They were enough to have me reaching for the sick bag. Then I found the above ad.

Companies spend vast sums on buying advertising because it works. It is a highly effective way for them to sell their products and/or services and it powers some of the world’s largest and most powerful companies; Facebook and Google, for example.

The corollary is that it is an equally effective way of communicating harmful stereotypes, such as that women should do all the cooking and cleaning, or, yes, that a bumbling father is a figure of fun and deserves to be mocked as somehow less of a man because he looks after the little darlings when he should be at work with the real men.

It should be stated that the ASA’s rule is designed to protect both genders.

One would hope that advertisers take note, although there will doubtless be one or two that decide to be crass in the hopes of generating controversy, and thus attention. Unfortunately that too is a highly effective tool when it comes to pushing a product.

The suffrage anniversary that I mentioned is of the law that granted women over the age of 30 the vote, subject to certain conditions. The universal franchise took a little longer to achieve. The coverage of it has, however, publicised a number of startling facts. Women were, for example, routinely denied mortgages if they didn’t have a male guarantor as recently as the late 1970s. It wasn’t until 1975 that they could open a bank account in their own name. They could be refused service when trying to spend their own money in a pub until as recently as 1982.

When it comes to achieving equality, progress has been grindingly slow, and we’re not there yet. Or did you miss the gender pay gap reporting process earlier this year?

Perhaps in ten or twenty years time, when people are again celebrating the anniversary or women’s suffrage, a columnist will add the ban on gender stereotyping in ads to the above list. The ASA’s move is entirely welcome, with just one caveat: Why did it take so long?

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