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Britain Bans Gender Stereotyping in Advertising — Could That Fly in the U.S.?

Britain Bans Gender Stereotyping in Advertising

How would Carl's Jr. ever sell a burger if the company couldn't use stereotypes of women?

If the United States ever decides to adopt the United Kingdom's new rules that ban advertising that promotes gender stereotypes it could prove ruinous for Carl's Jr., any number of cleaning products, and those Super Bowl commercials that have yet to evolve into mini think pieces. But the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority has decided to turn the advertising industry on its head by bucking the very thing it's relied on for at least a century.

"While advertising is only one of the many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole," Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, said of the move, according to The New York Times.

Guidelines for the ban on gender stereotyping in ads have not been rolled out yet, but a few examples of what would be deemed unacceptable were provided in a report from the Advertising Standards Authority.

"It would be inappropriate and unrealistic to prevent ads from, for instance, depicting a woman cleaning," although, "an ad which depicts family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up" could be the type of ad that is banned, according to the report.

Advertising has made a few strides since the 1923 Listerine ad that coined the phrase "Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride" or the 1948 Lysol ad that dared to ask, "Why does she spend her evenings alone?" but the evolution of women in advertising has not been across the board, as evidenced by 2017 Super Bowl commercials like one for Mr. Clean in which a woman is turned on by a husband as a fantasy version of Mr. Clean simply because he offered to do the unexpected and help her clean. One ridiculously gendered Super Bowl ad for Febreze essentially asserted that a woman's place is in the bathroom standing by with her Febreze to spray away any foul odor the boys might emit during the halftime. Britain's ban would challenge hackneyed advertising plotlines like the ones Febreze and Mr. Clean assembled for the Super Bowl.

While feminist organizations in Britain say it's about time for a major change in how products are marketed as they can exacerbate everything "from the gender pay gap to violence against women and girls," not everyone approves. A writer for The Times of London, Andrew Ellson, wrote that the new standards are an attack on freedom of speech.

Still others, like Lindsey Clay, chief executive of the British marketing group Thinkbox, told TheNew York Times that the guidelines are "a wake-up call for the advertising industry."

Certainly, here in the U.S., the ban would put a damper on the salacious advertising Donald Trump's first pick for Labor secretary, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's former CEO Andy Puzder espoused to appeal to his "hungry guys." How would he have ever sold a burger without model Charlotte McKinney strolling through a farmers' market holding a set of giant melons, Kate Upton tonguing a jalapeno, or any number of women allowing the juices from her Carl's Jr. burger to trickle down their faces? Fingers crossed that the company's new CEO Jason Marker makes strides in moving in the direction of advertising free from gender stereotyping or at least away from blatant sexism.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist

Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.
Tracy E. Gilchrist is the VP, Executive Producer of Entertainment for the Advocate Channel. A media veteran, she writes about the intersections of LGBTQ+ equality and pop culture. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of The Advocate and the first feminism editor for the 55-year-old brand. In 2017, she launched the company's first podcast, The Advocates. She is an experienced broadcast interviewer, panel moderator, and public speaker who has delivered her talk, "Pandora's Box to Pose: Game-changing Visibility in Film and TV," at universities throughout the country.