1960's ad - gender stereotype

Global Response to Sexist Adverts

by Sam Wink and Lori Boland

The UK is latest government to take a stand against sexualization in advertising.

Advertising watchdogs in Britain have ruled that negative gender-stereotypes – like lazy husbands and their cleaning-obsessed wives – can be harmful to the population. Legislation is currently being drafted to ban these ads as well as ads that show unhealthy body images, suggest that activities are somehow inappropriate for certain genders or otherwise impose limits on how a person views themselves.

Global Involvement

Recently, governing bodies across the world have begun to understand that images do not have to be of an overtly sexual or self-harming nature to have lasting consequences for viewers. YWCA Metro Vancouver conducted research as part of our Culture Shift program into the effects of sexualization on boys and girls, women and men. We’ve found that children and youth are particularly vulnerable to images of sexualization and objectification and the effects of which can manifest in a number of ways.

The following is a list of international jurisdictions that are taking concrete action against the sexualization of women in media:

  • June 2017, Berlin, Germany:  New regulations introduced that will ban sexist ads on all state-owned advertising spaces and create a special central committee to determine whether advertising on billboards run by private agencies is discriminatory.
  • March 2017, Paris, France:  The Council of Paris (the assembly responsible for governing the city) initiated a ban on any "sexist and discriminatory" ads appearing across the city. The new contract, effective November 20, 2017, calls on its outdoor advertising company not to distribute any ads including (but not limited to): sexist stereotypes, homophobic images or any degrading, dehumanizing, or offensive representations of women and men
  • November 2016, Cologne, Germany:  German Justice Minister and Social Democrat (SPD) Heiko Maas wants to eliminate "gender discriminatory advertising. The aim of the proposal is to create a "modern gender image" in Germany. In future, posters or ads which "reduce women or men to sexual objects" could be banned. In the case of dispute, a court would have to decide.
  • June 2016, London, England:  The Mayor of London takes action on his pledge to ban unhealthy body image ads across the London transit network (TfL). The revised TfL advertising policy will apply to all new ads submitted to TfL. An advertising Steering Group to be established to ensure ads are fit for London.
  • May 2016, Trondheim, Norway:  Introduced policy that will regulate all contracts with the city of Trondheim until 2030, and aims to not only limit unrealistic photoshopped ads which contribute to unrealistic standards of beauty and body ideals but to also create a debate about the impact commercials have on body image.
What can we do?

Did you know that in Canada advertisers are not permitted to sexualize or objectify women for the purpose of selling goods?  And you can lodge a complaint about questionable ads?  The same goes for radio and television broadcasting.

In Canada there are a handful of organizations responsible for regulating the portrayal of women in media. Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) is the national not-for-profit advertising self-regulatory body. ASC both administers the advertising code in Canada, and collects and responds to complaints about Canadian ads that are in breach of those codes. If you see or hear content that sexualizes women, you can lodge a complaint through the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council.

It’s time for Canada to take a strong stance against sexualization in media. The YWCA Culture Shift program aims to combat these issues by following in the UK and France’s footsteps and releasing a Media Complaint toolkit that makes it easier for the public to report sexualized or dangerous advertising directly to Advertising Standards Canada.