Ads That Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes Are Being Banned … But Not in the U.S.


Advertisements that perpetuate gender stereotypes will now be banned under new, stricter guidelines in the UK. For a lot of Americans, this sounds like a utopian dream–one in which those behind the commercials and other ads we see recognize that theirs is an industry designed to target our susceptible subconscious and holds itself to standards to make sure that power isn’t abused.

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Let’s not bother with any of those “they’re just commercials” nonsense. The representations we see affect the way we view ourselves and the world. Children are especially susceptible, but repeated stereotypes in the media strongly affect adults as well. The Advertising Standards Association is wholly aware of this, and has long held guidelines that ban ads that “objectify or inappropriately sexualise women and girls, and ads that suggest it is acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin.”

A new report, though, questions whether “a tougher line needs to be taken on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which, through their content and context, may be potentially harmful to people.” Obviously, they can’t do away with all images that lend themselves to various stereotypes, like, for example, women cleaning or men playing sports. No one is asking for that in the first place. But there are some blatantly harmful manifestations of gender stereotypes they want to do away with. For example:

  • “An ad which depicts family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up.”
  • “And ad that suggests an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereotypically associated with boys or vice versa.”
  • “An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.”

Can you imagine a world without commercials and other types of ads centered around insulting concepts like “Oh no, dad is incapable of cleaning up a simple mess!” or that tragedy would ensue if a woman ate a donut.

Maybe, in this brave new world, casting doesn’t have to be so rigidly divided down gender lines. Maybe an ad for Stormtrooper toys or Battleship or cute robot dogs could feature boys and girls playing–brace yourselves for a scandalous proposition–together.

Since this is a UK advertising code, American companies are under no obligation to put out more responsible ads. But they could take a moment and consider maybe discontinuing the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes doesn’t have to cost them any money, and could add to the betterment of humans. You know, just a thought.

(via Mashable, image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.