On Tuesday, the Advertising Standards Authority, one of a few British advertising regulators, announced that "new rules would be developed to ban advertising that promotes gender stereotypes or denigrates people who do not conform to them; sexually objectifies women; or promotes unhealthy body images."
"Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children," the lead author of the report told the New York Times. "Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take."
Among the offending examples: a baby formula ad showing a little girl growing up to be a ballerina and a little boy becoming a mathematician.
Another ad, for a weight-loss drink, showed a bikini-wearing woman whose bronzed image, critics said, promoted an unrealistic standard of beauty.
A third ad, for a video game, showed the perpetually scantily dressed Kate Upton on a horse, making it seem as though sexual desirability were a prerequisite for leadership.
I'm not sure how this will play out in a world where there is significant momentum toward gender neutrality (you may call me Nir or Xe from now on, by the way). In spite of all the guessing about the gender orientation of Asia Kate Dillon, who also plays the "non-binary" Taylor on Showtime's "Billions," might there still be a point to gender stereotyping in advertising?
I am not certain how it helps, say, a four-year-old boy (sorry, person) watching TV to see an ad with a character like Taylor, whose gender he (sorry, "the child") can only guess at. While I see the flaws in implying that girls only grow up to be ballerinas (sorry, Nureyev, Baryshnikov and Nijinsky) and that boys automatically become mathematicians (sorry, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Mary Jackson), it's hard to see how anyone looks at Kate Upton and the first thought they have is "leadership." Trust me, I have tried.
And does this now mean that all the attractive women in commercials will disappear simply because they are, well, too attractive? (That seems like a class-action discrimination suit gathering on the horizon.) This would certainly disadvantage luxury brands, whose aspirational approach is clearly to imply that buying that premium beer, those threads or that eight-cylinder car will put you in the company of women who look like models or starlets. I'm not sure being rewarded by the company of Taylor will make the sale.
Now, I'd be the first to admit that I'm a shallow, micro-aggressive being of the male persuasion who would still would rather see Alessandra Ambrosio in a bikini than, say Hillary Clinton, (hey, "leadership" just came to mind). But I have to think that commercials often feature attractive people of this or that gender because tons of market testing shows they help move more product than someone who looks less attractive. So, good luck winning that battle.
Even the historically gender-hard-core military services have for a while included women in their recruiting campaigns -- although they're shown helping with rescues and delivering disaster aid rather than lighting up a troop convoy with napalm. Does this mean women can't also be ruthless killers? (That seems like another class-action discrimination suit gathering on the horizon.) Perhaps if a little girl saw more women bayoneting adversaries or mowing down one of her own troops who has abandoned his post, it would help empower the child to grab the nearest gun and stop being so submissive.
Before anyone goes there, I'll say that yes, I'm indeed afraid of women more powerful than me, mostly because I married one -- and you DO not want to be around her when she brings the office home. But while her business acumen, judgment, values and smarts were big factors in my deciding to marry her, still I confess it was because I thought then, and still think today, that she is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. And, no, I am not talking about her cosmic persona, but her drop-dead good looks.
Does that make me a bad boy person?