SH!FT is an invitation to the advertising industry to discuss female stereotypes in ads

There are so many female stereotypes that still exist in advertising today. We’ve named a few that we noticed but we want to start a deeper discussion about all stereotypes in advertising, how they’re harmful and outdated, and what the industry can do about them.

This video series is a jumping-off point for the advertising industry to think deeper about stereotypes and give people the language to have these discussions in client briefs and team meetings.

The Model Mother

Ads should represent the reality of family dynamics, showing mothers in paid employment, nurturing fathers, rainbow families and single parent homes.

Women are still disproportionately shown as the sole caretakers both of the home and of children. Ads often show women caring, dressing, cooking and cleaning up after children, while mostly showing men engaging with children though playing outside.

The Passive Little Girl

All children should feel empowered to run, play and learn in any way they wish. But ads are telling children that boys should engage in active play and girls must be sitting to play.

Boys can run around with cars, lightsabers and get outside, but girls are often shown sitting with one another, playing with dolls and home appliances and too often everything is pink!

Toys regardless of gender accurately represents how children play.

The Observed Woman

Women have agency over their lives, and advertising should not position them as people to be observed, gazed at or narrated by men.

The Observed Women often loses her voice to a male narrator or exists for the Male Gaze — made an object for male characters to watch and comment on. This stereotype often intersects with the stereotype of The Sexualised Woman, with the camera acting as the observer as the woman acts seductively for a male audience.

The Sexualised Woman

Women should be represented as complex and real and be treated with respect regardless of the way they look.

The sexualisation of women in ads tells us that a woman’s value comes only from her sexual appeal or behaviour to the exclusion of other characteristics. Women have been sexualised in ads to provoke the Male Gaze and – supposedly – as a form of ‘empowerment’.

The Pretty Face

Women deserve to be seen and valued by society as smart, independent and equal.

Women are more educated than ever, but some ads still show women as nothing more than a pretty face. While this can present subtly in some campaigns, it still sends the message that women are less intelligent than men and not capable of deep or intellectual thought.

The Magical Grandmother

Older women are active and influential in society and should be represented that way in ads.

Women aged 55 and over are notably missing from advertising, and when they do appear they are shown as the magical grandmotherly figure, most often in the kitchen, serving food at Christmas or smiling and supporting younger characters.

The Ticked Box

Women, of all races, ages and abilities should exist as main characters (with lines!) across advertising campaigns.

But white, able bodied, and straight characters still dominate stories. When characters are included for diversity, they are often put in the background, with no substance, backstory or even lines. Involving women from a mix of backgrounds, with a range of sexualities, genders, ages and abilities can bring new voices and vision to your work.

Who is missing?

Moving away from stereotypes in ads is about creating a more representative picture of Australians today.

The missing women aren’t strictly a stereotype – because they don’t exist in ads in the first place. There are many women who rarely or never appear in ads: women with disabilities, in larger bodies, LGBTQI+ women, trans women, gender diverse people, older women, women of colour – particularly First Nations women.


Start a conversation

The SH!FT video series started as a downloadable PDF resource to bring attention to some female stereotypes and inform the ad-making process.

This tool breaks down these stereotypes and brings the facts to the forefront to show why they’re outdated and harmful.

You can use this as a tool in client meetings and workplace training, or as a starting point for identifying other stereotypes you’ve seen in ads.


This is only the beginning.

This resource is ever-evolving but we need your help. Share the stereotypes you’ve seen with us on social media, whether you’ve spotted one of the above, a different stereotype altogether or any stereotypes you’ve seen about men in ads, we want to hear them!

Join the conversation

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Victoria State Government logo on a transparent background

The SH!FT video series and stereotypes guide is supported by the Victorian Government and Respect Victoria.