ASA guidelines

Follow the links below (including a summary video) to find out more about the report from the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) on Gender Stereoytyping.



What are gender stereotypes?

Extract from full report page 7-9

A stereotype is defined as ―a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Walter Lippmann introduced the concept of social stereotypes in his book Public Opinion, where he explained that public opinion is formed and manipulated by external information which creates ―pictures inside the heads of these human beings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, and relationships and that ―the pictures inside people‘s heads do not automatically correspond with the world outside.

A gender stereotype is, therefore, an image or idea of a group or individual based on their gender. The use of stereotypes in general can be a useful creative device for advertisements which seek to engage with and influence a target market in a short space of time.

This report is concerned specifically with the use of gender stereotypes and whether there is potential for the depiction of gender stereotypes in advertisements to cause harm or widespread offence. The evidence section of this report demonstrates that much of the research relevant to gender stereotypes relates to women and girls. This is likely to be a reflection of recognised historical inequalities between the sexes. These inequalities have begun to be addressed in the last 50 years but still pervade many aspects of society. The evidence supports a view that women and girls remain disadvantaged in many spheres of their lives. However, society has also begun to recognise how gender stereotypes can reinforce certain expectations and behaviour that can have a negative effect on men and boys. This small, but growing body of evidence demonstrates how ingrained expectations placed on men and boys can lead to harm. For example, stereotypes that imply men should be physically strong, unemotional and capable of being the main breadwinner in a family are linked to outcomes such as depression and suicide, and potentially limit men from playing a full and active role in family life. There are also strong indications that men and boys are increasingly experiencing harm as a consequence of pressure to achieve a certain body image – reflecting the longstanding experiences of women and girls.

Gender stereotypes do not exist in isolation from each other. Male‘ and female‘ stereotypes can reinforce each other – if men are strong and aggressive, women must be weak and passive; if men are successful in their careers, women should be caregivers and home-makers; and if women are emotional, men are stoic. In all these examples, the female‘ stereotype tends to be less valued by society and the male‘ stereotypes are generally considered aspirational, but the consequences can be harmful for all.

Overly simplistic stereotypes can create expectations of how individuals should look or behave according to their biological sex in a very limited and defined binary framework, without acknowledging the natural diversity of individual characteristics. Those stereotypes can also be problematic for individuals whose gender identity, for example, does not conform with expectations of their biological sex.

Characteristics such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation, as well as other elements such as socio-economic and cultural backgrounds are attributes that make up an individual‘s unique identity. s. For instance, the prejudices faced by an individual who is gay, disabled and of a minority ethnic group may be different to those experienced by another who is of the same ethnicity, heterosexual and non-disabled. Therefore, depictions of stereotypes that are based on more than one of those characteristics, or intersectional identities‘, could amplify their harmful impact on a given group or individual to which those characteristics apply.

To solely examine gender stereotypes without taking heed of stereotypical elements based on other characteristics that might come into play risks overlooking the impact, or harm, to individuals who might also share those aspects in their identity. Within a scope that includes all adults and children, the project has sought to engage with stakeholders who represent diverse backgrounds and interests to ensure that the project recognises and represents views that are reflective of today‘s society. This approach acknowledges that in addition to gender, stereotypes relating to other characteristics and aspects of an individual‘s identity exist, and are often interconnected.

Some intersectional identities, for example, gender in relation to sexual orientation or race, were discussed in more depth than others in input from stakeholders as set out in this report. However, the report also signposts any potential strands that the ASA may wish to examine in future projects. In addition to this, in 2017 the ASA and CAP will carry out a review of how it meets its obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty and what further steps can be put in place to achieve those obligations. This will provide an opportunity for the system to consider its approach to all protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010. 


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