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Should we ban gender stereotypes in advertising?

November 2020

A satirical video from SBS’ The Feed, parodying sexist ads from the 1950s, highlights research led by Women’s Health Victoria and RMIT University which shows the community is tired of the ‘same, boring, reheated stereotypes’.

The video asks: is it time for the government to ban ads for gender stereotyping?

Research shows that both gender stereotyping and sexualisation of women in advertising have serious adverse effects on women. Not only does it limit their roles, interests and aspirations, but it damages women’s and girls’ physical and mental health, and reinforces beliefs and attitudes that cause violence against women.

Leading the way in the regulation of gender stereotypes in advertising is the United Kingdom.

The UK banned harmful gender stereotypes in advertising in 2019, and since that time has banned two ads under the new rules. The UK’s comprehensive guide discusses use of stereotypical gender roles, pressure to conform to idealised body image, and representation of people who don’t conform to binary gender roles.

The Australian Association of National Advertisers has recently updated the Australian Code of Ethics to include a stronger focus on avoiding harm in advertising portrayals. This is welcome. But without a requirement for the complaints body, Ad Standards, to incorporate gender equity expertise, and no mechanism for enforcing compliance with the Code, will complaints about sexist ads continue to be dismissed?