In the wake of a recent study from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, Britain announced on Tuesday that it will ban sexist commercials that perpetuate stereotypical gender roles for either men or women.
The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) completed a comprehensive review on gender stereotyping and questioned whether current regulations are sufficient to provide protection against harmful depictions of gender. The ASA urged greater vigilance to prevent ads that can potentially cause harm. This call to action also applies to portrayals of individuals being mocked when stereotypes are not conformed to. The Committee of Advertising Practice, a sister organization to the ASA, confirmed that there was an evidence-based case for stronger regulation.
Though some may argue that gender stereotypes are not harmful, female leaders of various organizations have refuted this opinion:
- Ella Smillie, the report’s lead author, stated, “such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take.” This consequence has been evidenced by countless studies of women in the workplace, for example.
- Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said that stereotypes were central to gender inequality “from the gender pay gap to violence against women and girls.”
- Lindsey Clay asserted that the new standards should not be regarded as a restriction, but as an opportunity for greater creativity.
While it may be unrealistic to completely remove these biases from ads, more stringent guidelines will be developed in order to feasibly rectify certain images. For instance, it may be unrealistic to ban ads from depicting woman cleaning. An ad where a family makes a mess and the woman is responsible for cleaning it up, however, may be within the realm of the new regulation. The ASA does not have the power to impose fines, but broadcasters are bound by their license terms to comply. The law will be implemented in 2018 if all goes according to plan.
Some are suggesting the U.S. should follow suit. Due to the First Amendment, however, government regulation is not possible. Margo Davenport, a representative for the media bureau of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., advised, “we have very limited jurisdiction over content of programming, including ads, except for programming relating to children and indecent programming.”
For now, it is encouraging to know that Britain is taking steps in the right direction and hopefully incite some much needed change.