Gender stereotyping in adverts is harming children and young people, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned.
In particular, the advertising agency needs to protect young children from harmful stereotypes, as they are likely to internalise the messages that they promote, the ASA’s new report states.
The ASA’s report into gender stereotyping in advertising comes as a separate survey shows that almost half – 47 per cent – of all secondary-aged girls have seen stereotypical images of men and women in the media over the past week, and have felt less confident about doing what they want as a result.
The Girls’ Attitude Survey of girls and young women between the ages of 11 and 21, conducted by Girlguiding, also revealed that 59 per cent had seen airbrushed images in the media in the week before they were questioned, and had consequently felt under pressure to change how they looked.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said that, in the past, teachers did a lot of work to counter such attitudes. “There’s a lot that teachers did,” she said. “But, at the moment, all those considerations are secondary to getting through Sats.
“There’s a huge amount of antiracist, antisexist work that isn’t being done. Ironically, those are some of life’s most important lessons."
She said the problem went further than the advertising world, saying: “Do you know there’s not one apprenticeship in the construction industry in London that has gone to a young woman this year? Advertising just replicates life.”
But the ASA’s report said that gender stereotypes in adverts could restrict the choices and aspirations of children and teenagers.
The report states: “These stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes, with costs for individuals, the economy and society.”
The ASA reviewed a range of ways in which gender roles could be reinforced through advertising. These included objectification, sexualisation, gendered roles and the mockery of people who do not conform to gender stereotypes.
It concluded that the ASA needed to take a tougher line on adverts that feature stereotypical gender roles, or that mock people for not conforming to those roles.
The report did not suggest banning any adverts depicting women cleaning or men doing DIY tasks. However, it did rule against adverts showing a woman cleaning up a mess created by her family. And, similarly, it said that adverts featuring men trying and failing to undertake simple parenting or household tasks could be damaging to children.
It also highlighted as problematic adverts that suggested that certain activities were for girls or boys, and therefore inappropriate for the other sex.