News, Culture & Society

JANET STREET-PORTER: Are the advert police really serious about gender equality?

My goodness, we live in hyper-sensitive times. New rules designed to eradicate ‘gender stereotyping’ have been used to ban two television ads. 

One, for Philadelphia cream cheese, showed two young men looking after their children, the other – for a compact Volkswagen electric car – ended with a woman sitting on a park bench by a pram.

The hapless dads stuck their kids on a buffet conveyor belt, momentarily forgetting about them to taste a ‘delicious’ snack. Sniggering, they whisper ‘let’s not tell Mum’.

The VW ad featured male and female climbers asleep in a tent, two male astronauts, and a male athlete with a prosthetic leg. The sequence ended with a woman sitting on a park bench next to a pram.

The first ad – which received 128 complaints – was rebuked for reinforcing the notion that men were ineffective child carers. The second, which only attracted 3 complaints, was criticised for implying the roles depicted were associated with one gender.

A po-faced spokesperson from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) went on the radio to tell an incredulous interviewer the new rules – drawn up after conducting extensive research- were designed to stop ‘negative stereotypes’ causing ‘real-world harms’ to the public.

These could be limiting career or real-life aspirations – implying that women might think men do all the adventurous stuff while women get stuck with the children. That men, are by implication, sloppy childminders, scientists and high acheivers, while women are good at sleeping and nurturing.

Are we really that stupid? It’s a fact of life that women give birth and many women are happy to push prams. Some women (and men) are even paid to push prams for other women. Some grannies even do it for free.

The hapless dads in the Philadelphia ad stuck their kids on a buffet conveyor belt, momentarily forgetting about them to taste a ‘delicious’ snack. Sniggering, they whisper ‘let’s not tell Mum’

Banning ads because they might cause imaginary offence is social engineering of the most insiduous kind, political correctness carried to extremes.

It was bad enough being told recently that the organisers of the BBC Proms were counting the number of male and female musicians and performers to try and achieve gender parity. God forbid that musical ability rules an appointment.

It’s horrific enough that advertising routinely now includes a single person of colour- the ‘one black friend’ as if that ticks all the right boxes, even though people of colour say it is patronising and insulting.

God forbid we get sold kitchens, sofas and toilet cleaners by people who are black or brown with no white faces in the room. If advertising is meant to mirror the real world, then why doesn’t it feature folk who look like the people I see every day on public transport and in streets where I live in central London?

In trendy Hackney, men easily equal women when it comes to carrying a baby around in a papoose or pushing a wheelchair. Brad Pitt was a trail blazer years ago. The ASA seems to have forgotten that in the modern world, fathers have legal rights when it comes to access to their children. That stay at home dads are on the increase as more women are the major breadwinner. Every weekday, I see men taking their kids to school on pushbikes and on foot, it’s no big deal.

It was bad enough being told recently that the organisers of the BBC Proms were counting the number of male and female musicians and performers to try and achieve gender parity

It was bad enough being told recently that the organisers of the BBC Proms were counting the number of male and female musicians and performers to try and achieve gender parity

Never mind depicting the right number of men and women in exciting jobs in ads, what I don’t see are females who look like women in the real world. In ads, women are routinely depicted as thinner, younger, wearing less than men, and they more likely to be in the kitchen, by the washing machine and doing the shopping.

Women are still floating through perfume ads in very little, getting excited about clean laundry and smell-free toilets. Grannies still look on from the sidelines, are never centre stage unless it’s flogging a care home or a cruise. Women of my age are non-existent. I don’t have a single role model to aspire to.

Is it the job of the advertising police to bring about gender equality? Women have got plently of big battles to fight without monitoring ads for cream cheese. There’s still a gender pay gap. The number of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies has stalled. Female CEO’s of major businesses remain a pitifully small group. Domestic violence is on the increase, bullying at work is woefully underreported, with the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) still rampant, in spite of repeated demands to ban them.

Rich and powerful men still use super-injunctions to prevent the press printing the truth about what they get up to in the workplace. Sexual harassment hasn’t stopped in spite of #MeToo- only this week a large number of women have come forward to complain about unwanted sexual advances and worse at the hands of the world-famous tenor Placido Domingo. In this context, a couple of snivelling lads eating cream cheese is hardly worthy of mention.

Olivia Buckland, who starred in Love Island in 2016, has been twice reprimanded by the ASA for posting paid ads disguised as impartial comment - including the one above

Olivia Buckland, who starred in Love Island in 2016, has been twice reprimanded by the ASA for posting paid ads disguised as impartial comment – including the one above

And what about the harm that young women are inflicting on their peers by shamelessly using social media to promote products under the guise of chatty comment, rather than paid advertising? Why aren’t the ASA coming out with all guns blazing to attack to stars of Love Island and other reality shows who routinely use Instagram to flog stuff to their followers, making all sorts of spurious claims?

The hyper-inflated lips and pumped up breasts of the Love Island stars, the young faces packed with fillers and plastered with makeup, are being heavily promoted on Instagram as the new normal, and the result has been a rise in cosmetic procedures amongst young women, a rise in self-harming and eating disorders.

Instead of fixating on whether women should be encouraged to be astronauts or rock climbers, shouldn’t the ASA be policing soft advertising by women with hundreds of thousands of impressionable followers?

Women like Olivia Buckland, who starred in Love Island in 2016, twice reprimanded by the ASA for posting paid ads disguised as impartial comment- one in 2018, another for Cocoa Brown fake tan in Febuary of this year, which she described as ‘the perfect accessory for date night’.

Kylie Jenner has built a multi-million dollar business out of flogging make-up to girls who aspire to her primped, pumped up and utterly impossible ideal of beauty

Kylie Jenner has built a multi-million dollar business out of flogging make-up to girls who aspire to her primped, pumped up and utterly impossible ideal of beauty

And earlier this year, reality star Jenny Lucy tried to promote a ‘slimming’ brand of coffee, claiming it helped her lose weight, attracting 25 complaints.

Meanwhile Kylie Jenner has built a multi-million dollar business out of flogging make-up to girls who aspire to her primped, pumped up and utterly impossible ideal of beauty.

The ASA and ITV say they want stars to be ‘upfront’ in their postings. What a feeble aspiration – reality stars are using their short-lived fame to flog as much as they can to their followers, and the ASA is powerless after something has been posted and disseminated online- a ban after a promotion seen by a million people acheives nothing. There should be hefty fines, full stop.

Thank god the ASA isn’t in charge of monitoring the stuff between the ads – they would have banned Killing Eve straightaway- there aren’t enough inspirational men!

And as for Detective Vera, what kind of aspirational role model is Brenda Blethyn in that shabby raincoat?

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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