The Tea on the U.K.’s New Stereotypes Ban

by Michelle Ruiz

In 1963, Acme Markets Coffee featured a print ad which showed a woman blissfully inhaling the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee. The tag line with it proclaimed “The most important quality in coffee is how much it will please your man.

One can only imagine what the ads for the tea and sugar were like.

That very year, American author Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, causing a stir when she rallied against how women were depicted in magazine advertisements and the implications upon self-image. Exhaustingly enough, since then the discussion on gender representation, sexism, and bias is still very much relevant as they are still major issues—despite modern mediums. However, some countries are have already been taking big steps to lead transformative representation.

This month in the U.K., following a 6 month ‘adjustment’ period, the Advertising Standards Authority‘s regulations on gender and stereotypes took effect. After researching the adverse effects of stereotypes which “can lead to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of peoples lives,” harmful depictions were identified. As reported in The New York Times, these regulations include ads which:

“connect physical features with success in the romantic or social spheres; assign stereotypical personality traits to boys and girls, such as bravery for boys and tenderness for girls; suggest that new mothers should prioritize their looks or home cleanliness over their emotional health; and mock men for being bad at stereotypically “feminine” tasks, such as vacuuming, washing clothes or parenting.”

These rules will be reviewed in 12 months to follow up with their efficacy. Currently, in the US, the only enforced stereotype regulations are ones which target children, as defined by the Federal Trade Commission. By that definition, it makes sense we should also be concerned with how youth and ultimately society at large absorb and are affected by the representations we see, opportunities and goals we set ourselves to, and the inclusive, equal relationships we may form as a result.

With $9 Billion worth of their ad services exported globally, the UK can hopefully influence us all to reflect on deeper action and momentum into implementing similar restrictions in the U.S. Recently, our own Samara Anderson chatted with Erica Green, Global Group Creative Director at Mattel, and posted some specific ways we can also address bias.

Friedan’s work brought attention to a culturally systemic problem that continues today. The industry pats itself on the back when it makes small strides, but since her call to action fifty-six years ago, it’s time we stopped dragging our feet. Perhaps with inspiration from countries (many of which have had these rules in place for decades) like Norway, France, South Africa, and now the U.K.—we can hopefully picture a future where fluid representation and gender-equality are concepts as common as afternoon tea or coffee.

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