If you’re the same age as me, getting far too close to 40 for your liking, then you have probably grown up watching a plethora of different TV commercials – the days before you could pause and fast forward live TV. We watched Lynda Bellingham making roast dinner for her children with the help of Oxo, mothers lamenting how they couldn’t get their house clean enough, the stains out of their clothes, the limescale out of their toilets. Or if you flip a coin, men being useless at these tasks, unable to change a nappy, or able to cope with everyday tasks on their own. We watched them and we didn’t think anything about them. We thought that this was just normal life.
Fast forward 20 years, and a couple of weeks ago the UK’s advertising standard watchdog banned gender stereotyping in adverts. I’ve seen a lot of viewpoints from people about this on social media since it happened, so I thought I would share why I think this is a good thing.
To begin with my explanation I must start first by talking about gender bias. Gender bias is a very real and current issue faced in modern society. It is the fact that society is intrinsically biased towards certain viewpoints. That women or men should fulfil certain roles. From the obvious – women should be at home looking after the children, to the lines of pink and blue toys we see in the shops, to less obvious things like being told to ‘man up’ or to stop being ‘such a girl’. To the less obvious, for example I attended a talk at my children’s school where the headteacher referred to boys and girls liking different types of books because of their gender. Not one person questioned it, most just nodded along.
Sometimes the bias is so subtle you don’t even realise it’s happening or you’re thinking it. This is unconscious bias. You might make a decision that someone can’t do a task or job because they are male or female without even being aware that you’re doing it. Without even thinking about it in these terms just because it is something you have been taught or led to believe, you instinctively come to this decision and act on it.
Why We Need This Advertising Ruling
Now to go back to the new advertising ruling. If intrinsically and even unconsciously we are led to believe something, then this belief will colour our everyday actions.
For example, if we go back to my earlier example of my children’s school. If teachers believe that boys and girls prefer to read certain books, does this not colour how they teach them and what books they are offered? So in that respect it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
If we see on TV men being terrible at looking after their children, or women being the main care givers, then this reinforces the belief that this is the way that things should be. Unconsciously it reinforces certain these gender roles. If we normalise this behaviour to children, they grow up thinking it’s ok and this is what they should be doing.
You may not think it, but gender discrimination is still huge. The pay gap still sits at 17.9% and women still manage 74% of the household chores and have 25% less pension than men. You can read more from my trip to Westminster in March.
Women are still being redundant when they are pregnant, being passed on for promotion and the glass ceiling still hovers there like an ever present rain cloud.
But let’s flip the coin. One of the comments I saw on social media was this change being all about women… it’s not. Only 2% of men take shared parental leave, the leading cause of death for men under 45 is still suicide. Not cancer, not motor accidents – suicide. They take their own lives, because they cannot cope in the current world we are living in. Because we are still surrounded by toxic masculinity when men are told to ‘man up’, to ‘deal with it’, because of the belief that men should be strong and they shouldn’t talk about things. This by the way in case you missed it, is another example of gender bias.
I am not criticising women who do choose to stay at home or Dads that don’t take shared parental leave. I just wanted it to be a level playing field for men and women. I want to change the story for future generations. I want my daughter to have the career she always wanted to have, and my sons to not even contemplate committing suicide, to stay home and care for their children should they choose to. Is it not our role whether we are parents or not to make the world a better place for the next generation?
Now back to the advertising ruling once more. An advertisers job above all else is to sell. To make more money, to grow their product. This is their fundamental remit. While there are ethical brands, we only need to look at the history of Nestle to see that many companies have their own agenda. If their advert is going to make their product sell and it’s within the rules they’ll do it, whether it displays gender bias or not. Because they want to make more money.
However, if we keep on reinforcing these viewpoints, the world will keep on believing them. And men and women will forever be stuck on this merry go round of inequality. This is why we need this ruling.