ASCI develops guidelines to ask advertisers to break gender stereotypes

A set of guidelines developed by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) sends a strong message to advertisers: break gender stereotypes.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani, on Wednesday released the eight new guidelines on harmful gender stereotyping in advertisements, a follow-up to the regulator’s GenderNext 2021 study – in partnership with consultancy firm Futurebrands – which looked at the representation of women with an aim to guide brands.

The guidelines are a timely intervention, coming just days after the watchdog suspended controversial ads for body spray brand Layer’r Shot which sparked widespread outrage and were seen as promoting sexual violence against the women.

One of the new guidelines states that while advertisements may feature people assuming stereotypical gender roles or displaying stereotypical gender characteristics, they must not suggest that the stereotypical roles or characteristics are: always uniquely associated with a particular gender; the only options available for a particular gender; or never performed or displayed by another gender.

Other guidelines include:

  • Although advertisements may portray glamorous and attractive people, they should not suggest that an individual’s happiness or emotional well-being depends on conforming to these idealized and stereotypical body shapes or physical characteristics.
  • Ads must not make fun of people who do not conform to gender stereotypes, sexual orientation or gender identity, including in context that is intended to be humorous, hyperbolic or exaggerated.
  • They should not reinforce unrealistic and undesirable gender ideals or expectations.
  • An advertisement cannot suggest that a person fails to perform a task specifically because of their gender.
  • When an ad presents a person whose physique or physical characteristics do not correspond to an ideal stereotype associated with their gender, this should not imply that their physique or their physical characteristics are a significant reason for their failure.
  • Ads must not engage in the sexual objectification of characters of any gender or portray people in sexualized and objectified ways for the purpose of titillating viewers.
  • Neither sex should be encouraged to exercise dominance or authority over the other(s) through explicit or implicit threats, actual force, or through the use of degrading language or tone. Ads may not provoke or trivialize violence (physical or emotional), illegal or anti-social behavior based on gender. Additionally, they must not encourage or normalize voyeurism, teasing, harassment, emotional or physical harassment, or any other similar offense. That doesn’t stop the ad from showing these depictions as a way to challenge them.

Arguing for the need for such guidelines to ensure positive gender portrayal on screen, Irani said, “It is time not only for men but also for women in the advertising industry to step up. This is a very important step, and I believe there is a long way to go to change the way of thinking, but it is needed now. Work in this area needs to move faster and faster and organizations like ASCI should take the lead.

ASCI President Subhash Kamath added, “The new guidelines were created after extensive consultation with industry partners and civil society organizations, including the Unstereotype Alliance and UNICEF. They are a big step forward in strengthening the ASCI program to shape a more responsible and progressive narrative. »

In a session with the media, Ranjana Kumari, social activist and writer, reiterated that these guidelines are an attempt to spark discussion and debate around subtle messages that may go unnoticed. It is also important to push for laws that will appropriately penalize offenders, she added.

Gender portrayal is a complex and nuanced issue, and with the new guidelines, ASCI aims to address subtle stereotypical messages in advertisements that may go unnoticed.

A recent study by Kantar found that 64% of consumers believe advertising reinforces rather than helps eradicate harmful gender stereotypes.

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