You might have noticed the weekend’s announcement that Broadchurch’s Jodie Whittaker is going to be the first female Doctor Who, which created a bit of a division amongst fans of the show.
With comments on social media ranging from “A generation of Whovians will now know that as a female in the universe you don’t have to be the assistant” to “Just change the name to Nurse Who and it will all be fine. Maybe she can carry a sonic broom or frying pan…”, it’s clear that gender stereotypes are still an issue in the 21st Century.
What’s more, there’s a suggestion that the BBC appointed Jodie as the Doctor to balance the controversial salary announcement it made shortly after, in which male presenters’ salaries are much higher, in some cases, than those of their female counterparts. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but it does highlight that gender bias is still alive and kicking.
In the context of this media furore, the release of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) new report Depictions, Perceptions and Harm was very well-timed. The report was issued following a major review into gender stereotyping in advertising, and raised the issue that many ads use unrealistic stereotypes which are frequently reinforced over time across different campaigns. Although negative stereotypes affect a wide range of ethnic and social groups, we thought we’d take a look at gender bias in ads in light of the Doctor Who “scandal”.
Catalysed by Protein World’s 2015 “beach body ready” summer campaign, the ASA’s year-long investigation into harmful male and female stereotypes found evidence, supported by both academic research and public opinion, that some campaigns “have the potential to cause harm by inviting assumptions about adults and children that might negatively restrict how they see themselves and how others see them”.
Whilst this may be difficult to regulate and control, for advertisers and marketers alike it’s now clear there’s a duty to be socially responsible to their audiences with a duty of care towards the public in a wider sense.
Another prominent issue discussed in the report was the fear that the new ruling could inhibit creativity for agencies. However, rather than see this as a barrier, we think it’s a chance to shine and think outside the box whilst breaking down barriers for both genders, which can only be a positive outcome.
Let’s take a look…
In 2016, Gap released a children’s clothing campaign which separated the young children into “little scholars” for boys and “social butterflies” for girls. They also added the captions “your future starts here” for the young boy and promised that the girl’s clothes will be “the talk of the playground”. Whilst this may not be enough to trigger an investigation under current ASA regulations, it would be worth reviewing in light of the report.
The Chevy Truck Car commercial caused a stir in America
in 2015 when the brand used scripted focus groups to
suggest that men who don’t drive trucks are less masculine and therefore viewed as inferior. It also suggests that women will be less attracted to them, older men less likely to trust them with their daughters and young children feeling less likely to find them “cool”. Once again in isolation it can be identified as a nothing more than a gimmick, but there is no denying that it reinforces restrictive male stereotypes for monetary gain.
In terms of advert reinforcing stereotypes around women, there are plenty to choose from including this Fairy Platinum Dishwasher Tablet television advert from 2015. In many cases women are always depicted at home, doing the household chores and dominating the domestic space, often while the male partner looks on passively.
Whilst consumers can see past mediated representations, as Nanette Newman (the star of Fairy Liquid’s ‘80s adverts) suggests, it cannot be a bad thing to evaluate the types of messages we are producing as an industry that permeates society in the way that marketing does. It’s about being accountable to the audience we target and equally represent, whilst being socially responsible.