The UK’s new gender stereotypes regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, makes it’s first rulings.

“Absolutely ridiculous. Control state, dictated by the elite.”

This is the kind of reaction the ASA is receiving for its first rulings on advertising gender stereotypes. Harm reduction legislation has always fuelled claims that we’re entering a nanny state; little do we remember, even seat belts were once considered “taking things too far”.

It’s not just people who prefer exiting cars through front windshields instead of side doors who feel attacked by regulations such as those created by the ASA. Gender stereotypes are not on the minds of the majority of the population, and organisations who ask us to evolve our ideas about how men and women are “supposed to act” are really asking us to rethink everything we previously thought to be true. And the ads called out by the ASA are far subtler than the less-nuanced misogyny of UltraTune or Honey Birdette. But I’d argue the subtler the sexism, the more important it is to call out.

Take two of the advertisers the ASA ruled upon this week: Volkswagen and Philly Cream Cheese. Both have been challenged for their use of stereotyped gender roles. Volkswagen’s spot features a series of men engaging in adventurous and physical activities versus the sole woman in the spot, who reinforces the “woman as care-giver” stereotype by sitting beside her baby in a pram. Its not that men and women don’t do these things – but when the spot purposefully compares women and men in this way, it reinforces gender biases in a subtle and harmful way.

The Philadelphia ad meanwhile, reinforces the “dumb dad” stereotype, showing a dad apparently so distracted by a conveyor belt of food that he doesn’t notice his son being carried away on it. The ad perpetuates a harmful stereotype that men are incapable of looking after children, a stereotype that reinforces traditional gender roles and feeds ongoing gender inequality in the household and in broader society.

From little gender stereotypes, big inequalities grow. The ASA’s rulings may not make sense to everybody, but their intention is to improve equality for all of us, one silly telly commercial at a time.

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