The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published a new report – Depictions, Perceptions and Harm – which provides an evidence-based case for stronger regulation of ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which might be harmful to people, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

And so now CAP – the authors of the UK Advertising Codes – will develop new standards on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics. ASA will then administer and enforce those standards. About chuffing time!

The evidence for the report was gathered through a major independent research study by GfK. The key findings include:

• The evidence shows support for the ASA’s track record of banning ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualize people, and ads which suggest that it’s acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin

• But a tougher line is needed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which can potentially cause harm, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes

New standards are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes. For example, the evidence falls short of calling for a ban on ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks. But, subject to context and content considerations, the evidence suggests the following types of depictions are likely to be problematic:

• An ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up

• An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa

• An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks

Chief Executive of the ASA, Guy Parker, said: “Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people. While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

I caught the tail end of an interview on this topic on C5 news and one of the interviewees said on the whole he thought the proposals were too much and he told his young daughter to grow a thicker skin in the face of everyday sexism – ahem! And this, just a couple of days after the announcement of the first ever female Dr Who caused a stir amongst some fans – how on earth could a fictional time travelling character be a woman of all things? And on the day the BBC announce the salaries of their highest paid talent, which reinforces a humongous gender pay gap, we say bravo ASA. If you don’t like an ad or are offended by it yes of course you can boycott the product and/or shout loudly about it on social media but the point remains that ads do influence behaviour over and above consumer spending. Responsible advertising in this area is well overdue.

You can read the full report via https://www.asa.org.uk/resource/depictions-perceptions-and-harm.html