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Tis’ the season for stereotyping

December 2020

With December known as the season of giving, we see an influx of advertising telling us exactly what the perfect gift is for our loved ones. But too often, Christmas ads rely on lazy, outdated stereotypes.

We see it everywhere – catalogues advertise ‘gifts for her’ and ‘gifts for him’ meaning a robe for mum, and power tools for dad.

Sheridan released an ad campaign last year called ‘Christmas Personalities’. One ad showcases a blonde woman surrounded by pink with the persona “want nothing but expect everything”. Other ads in the same campaign feature men in bed, surrounded by dark blues and greens, reading a book or newspaper in bed. One man remarks “much better than last year’s socks”.

While advertising in Australia is generally becoming less sexist, at Christmas we seem to revert to harmful stereotypes.

Christmas ads overwhelmingly feature women as housewives, mothers and girlfriends, valuing beauty and fashion and, often cooking in the kitchen, shooing men away.

One 2019 Christmas ad by NRMA Insurance shows a woman swatting a man’s hand away from a pavlova and looking disapprovingly at the man to slow down.

While the ad has an important message, it also sends the message that women are principally responsible for Christmas preparations and that, far from being thanked and celebrated for their labour, they become critical and controlling.

This reinforces entrenched ideas about women’s roles in society, in this case, that it’s women’s role to take care of food and festivities and that women ‘nag’ their families. These stereotypes contribute to gender inequality in our society – like a sexist division of labour at home – and perpetuate attitudes and behaviours that drive violence against women.

While women are half the population, they make 70-80% of all purchasing decisions, particularly at Christmas time. Because women often buy for their children, partner, parents, friends and businesses, their purchases have a knock-on effect. Research has shown that ads that show women in non-stereotypical ways drive purchase intent and increase brand reputation.

This Christmas, don’t settle for stereotypes. Help challenge our perceptions of men and women during the holiday season, and all year round.