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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

ASCI’s Guidelines on Harmful Gender Stereotypes in Advertising Released

Guidelines lay down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals to create progressive gender depictions

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

INDIA. MUMBAI: The guidelines that guard against harmful gender stereotypes prepared by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) were released by Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani at an event held in New Delhi on Thursday.

The guidelines are based on a study report focusing on women conducted by ASCI and Futurebrands. They also serve as boundaries for depicting other genders. ASCI will examine stereotypes from the standpoint of the stereotyped group of people. Humor or banter is unlikely to overcome the underlying issue of such harmful stereotypes. According to the ASCI, the guidelines are not intended to prohibit advertisements from featuring glamorous, attractive, successful, or healthy people.

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ASCI Chairman Subhash Kamath stated, “the new guidelines have been created after extensive consultation with many partners- both from industry and civil society organizations, including the Unstereotype Alliance Australia and UNICEF.” These guidelines are a significant step forward in ASCI’s efforts to shape a more responsible and progressive narrative.”

“While some women are pleased with the incremental changes made in the advertising industry, women of my generation are a little more impatient,” Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Zubin Irani said at the guidelines’ unveiling. It is time for both men and women in the advertising industry to step up. This is a critical step, and I believe it will take some time to change people’s minds, but it is necessary now. Work in this area must accelerate, and organizations such as ASCI should take the lead, starting with its member base.”

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While advertisements may feature glamorous people, they must not suggest that an individual’s happiness or emotional wellbeing depends on conforming to these idealized gender-stereotypical body shapes or physical features, the ASCI said in a statement.

Advertisements aimed at children may feature a specific gender but should not convey that a particular children’s product or activity is inappropriate for one or another gender (s). For example, someone chiding a boy playing with dolls or girls from jumping around because it is not the typical activity associated with gender.

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Advertisements should not make fun of people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. For example, an ad should not belittle a man for performing stereotypically female roles or tasks or make fun of a same-sex relationship.

Undesirable gender ideals

Similarly, advertisements should not reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. An ad, for example, must not depict family members making a mess around the house while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning it. Similarly, a woman returning from work may not be portrayed as solely responsible for household chores while others around her are at play.

An advertisement may not imply that a person fails to complete a task because of gender, for example, a man’s inability to change nappies or a woman’s inability to park a car. This does not preclude the advertisement from using stereotypes to challenge them. Also, the advertisement should not imply that a short man, a dark woman, or anyone who is overweight is having difficulty finding work or a partner because of this aspect of their appearance.

Sexual objectification of characters

Sexual objectification of characters of any gender should be prohibited in advertisements. An image of a woman in lingerie lying back in a provocative pose behind various fast-food items, for example, would be considered problematic by an online takeaway service. Suppose the advertisement uses a suggestive image of a woman that has nothing to do with the advertised product. In that case, the advertisement is considered to project women as sexual objects, thus a gender stereotype likely to cause harm.

Advertisements cannot provoke or trivialize violence (physical or emotional), unlawful or anti-social behavior based on gender. Similarly, the ad should not encourage or normalize voyeurism, eve-teasing, stalking, emotional or physical harassment, or other offenses. This does not preclude the advertisement from using these depictions to challenge them.

Gender portrayal is a complex and nuanced issue, and the guidelines provide an interpretation of ASCI’s Chapter III, which deals with advertisements that may cause harm to individuals or society. Through subtle and implicit depictions, advertising reinforces certain harmful stereotypes while ignoring the aspirations of individuals and groups. According to a recent Kantar Group study, 64 percent of consumers believe that advertising strengthens rather than helps eradicate harmful gender stereotypes.

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  • Raju Vernekar

    Raju Vermekar is a senior Mumbai-based journalist who have worked with many daily newspapers. Raju contributes on versatile topics.

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