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The U.K. Just Banned ‘Harmful Gender Stereotypes’ in Advertising

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A ban on advertisements containing “harmful” gender stereotypes came into force in the U.K. on Friday, in a move experts hope will reduce gender inequality.

Adverts containing stereotypes such as women being bad at driving, or a husband being lazy while his wife cleans, will likely fall foul of the new rules recommended by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

“Making assumptions about how people should look and behave might negatively restrict how they see themselves and how others see them, and limit choices they make in life,” said Ella Smillie of the ASA, who led the 2017 study which recommended the new rules.

Other scenarios likely to be disallowed include stereotypes of children’s ambitions, for example boys aspiring to be engineers and girls aspiring to be dancers.

The new rules will affect social media advertising as well as ads on TV and in public places. They add to existing British guidelines banning sexualized imagery in ads unless it is relevant to the product being advertised.

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the advertising authority, in a statement. “Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential. It’s in the interests of women and men, our economy and society that advertisers steer clear of these outdated portrayals.”

Not all stereotypes will be banned, but those that are deemed “likely to cause harm or serious widespread [offense]” will.

Ads that satirize gender stereotypes will still be allowed. So will innocent depictions of women doing shopping or men doing home improvement, for example, provided there are no accompanying value judgments.

Regulators will consider the perspective of the group being stereotyped when deciding whether an ad should be allowed. The use of “[humor] or banter” will not be enough of an excuse to exempt ads from the ban, they said.

The ASA said scenarios likely to be banned under the new rules would include:

  • An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.
  • An ad that depicts a man or a woman failing to achieve a task specifically because of their gender e.g. a man’s inability to change [diapers]; a woman’s inability to park a car.
  • Where an ad features a person with a physique that does not match an ideal stereotypically associated with their gender, the ad should not imply that their physique is a significant reason for them not being successful, for example in their romantic or social lives.
  • An ad that seeks to [emphasize] the contrast between a boy’s stereotypical personality (e.g. daring) with a girl’s stereotypical personality (e.g. caring) needs to be handled with care.
  • An ad aimed at new [mothers] which suggests that looking attractive or keeping a home pristine is a priority over other factors such as their emotional wellbeing.
  • An ad that belittles a man for carrying out stereotypically “female” roles or tasks.
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    Write to Billy Perrigo at billy.perrigo@time.com