In a move that was completely unexpected, BBC Breakfast asked me to go on the sofa on Friday to discuss gender stereotypes in advertising. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has banned ads that contain “harmful” stereotypes or those that are likely to cause offence. As a result of that, and the fact they must have been turned down by a load of more consistent dad bloggers, they called me up.
Here’s a little taste of what happened:
Well done to this tweeter who had a better answer than mine for Charlie Stayt’s nappy ad question:
A better nappy ad @Bewildered_Dad should have highlighted dad & baby changing in shopping centre trying to change baby & only seeing baby changing facilities in women's bathroom & having to change the baby on the floor or toilet seat of the mens #genderstereotypes @BBCBreakfast— Chris Follows (@chrisfollowsart) June 14, 2019
If only I’d have thought of that in the moment. Ah well.
Should There Be a Ban on Gender Stereotypes in Advertising
It was an odd one because I’m not entirely sure a ban is the right course of action. Don’t get wrong, I want to get rid of the whole ‘idiotic dads’ cliche, the misogyny that still rules supreme and the hideous ads that suggest boys should aspire to only use their brains and girls should only aspire to look pretty tropes. But if we really want change, people need to believe in it rather than simply not use those stereotypes because they’ve been told not to.
However, even though I did say this, the BBC News website quoted me as being in favour of the ban.
It’s not the end of the world. The quote is correct and I applaud the intention of the ban, but I think it is impossible to enforce. For example, sometimes you need to show the stereotype to challenge the stereotype. How will they deal with that? Also, whose call is it to decide what is a damaging stereotype and what is a character that happens to portray a couple of stereotypical characters? It’s not an exact science and I think it may cause confusion. We all know what feels wrong, but it’s difficult to legislate for that.
It would be great if the world of marketing had the self awareness to have regulated itself, because I fully support the idea that these gender stereotypes in advertising can be damaging and limiting to people’s aspirations. But it clearly doesn’t. These adverts seep into the subconscious and, if brands present such messages consistently as ‘truth’, people start to believe them. That is, after all, the intention behind them.
The other reason I don’t like a ban, even though I agree with the sentiment, became obvious in some of the social media reaction to the segment.
Gender Stereotypes in Advertising Ban – REACTION
I genuinely wasn’t expecting people to find my points controversial. My main argument was that stereotypes of useless dads in adverts were outdated and needed to change. It seems I underestimated how much people fear change.
Some people who are definitely not persecuted love nothing better than to think they are being persecuted. You know the sorts; the ones who say “you can’t say anything anymore”, meaning that they are upset that people won’t accept their racism, homophobia, sexism or all three. They relish in the ‘injustice’ of it all.
When you ban something like gender stereotypes in advertising, it serves to make these people more militant. Suddenly, the ability to laugh at a dad who can’t change a nappy is the most important thing in the world to them and it is like you are basically taking away a fundamental human right.
Here’s an example of some of the messages sent to my Twitter accounts.
Jim Coulson, what a complete idiot! Grow up and get a life for goodness sake……you’d take the Merry out Christmas!
Pathetic…….— Graham May (@CharlieKranji) June 14, 2019
What a load of rubbish, it’s people like you that have practically outlawed having the right to laugh at ourselves. You obviously need a platform, I suggest something more helpful to the world than this utter mindless drivel.— Salty Sea Moose (@Istone1Stone) June 14, 2019
Embarrassing mate – surely there are more important issues. Insecure ?— Fletch189 (@fletch189_s) June 14, 2019
Rather than listen to reason or actually have to think about consequences of advertisers’ actions, these people just shut up shop and shut down conversation. They don’t offer anything constructive, they just react negatively.
Education is more effective than banning something outright because, clearly, these particular people do not understand the reasoning behind the ban. They just see that they are being told they ‘can’t do something’. We need to be more proactive at discussing the drawbacks to gender stereotypes in advertising and the positives of inclusive themes and language in a rational manner.
“More Important Issues”
There was a good deal of positive reaction too, which I appreciated. I engaged with those people as well as with the people who disagreed in a constructive manner. However I didn’t reply to any of the above tweets or the DM I received which packed an impressive number homophobic and gender stereotypical insults into such a short space. I don’t have the time to waste arguing on the internet.
I was however tempted to reply to the message talking about there being “more important issues”. Firstly, there are also more important issues than a man talking about something you don’t agree with on the telly, but that didn’t stop him taking the time to search for and contact me.
Secondly, yes, there are many more important issues, but who goes through life only ever discussing the most important issues? I can’t solve the care crisis, I can’t challenge climate change on my own, I can’t wrestle the phone from Donald Trump’s hands. But I can talk about parenting from my point of view and try to do something about gender stereotyping in advertising.
The culture that our kids absorb has a bearing on how they see themselves and others, and we need to change that. It’s not THE most important issue, but it certainly is AN important issue.