Feminists think stereotypes are only bad when other people use them

They say adverts spread sexist stereotypes while promoting the idea of an all-female cabinet.

Jon Holbrook

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned two adverts for ‘promoting gender stereotypes’. Ironically, while the ASA was railing against gender stereotypes, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was reviving them when calling for an emergency female-only cabinet ‘to work for reconciliation’ – because only women, so the stereotype goes, are ‘able to reach out to those they disagree with and cooperate to find solutions’.

These two examples highlight feminists’ hypocrisy around the use of gender stereotypes. They usually criticise them when the stereotypes are associated with male success, but celebrate them when they’re deployed in pursuit of female opportunity, such as accessing the levers of state power. That is, feminists are happy to use gender stereotypes to further the interests of a few top women.

The ASA’s feminism is not a surprise. Since 2017, it has been campaigning to challenge any claim by advertisers that associates men with success in the workplace or which associates women with playing a domestic or care-giving role. Two years ago it published a report into ‘gender stereotypes in advertising’. Ella Smillie, who led the research, with ‘passion and energy’, is now head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society, ‘where she is determined to fight sexism and gender inequality in all its forms’.

Passion and energy and a determination to fight sexism and gender inequality are the attributes of a campaigner, not a sober researcher. But then, the ASA’s report was always intended to be the product of a campaign rather than a dispassionate inquiry. The terms of reference assumed that gender roles were a problem, hence the report begins by explaining that the project considered whether ‘the ASA is doing enough to address the potential for harm arising from the inclusion of gender stereotypes in ads’. So, from the outset, the ASA’s only concern was how much to meddle in what it took to be a problem. The project listened to ‘experts’ and ‘stakeholders’, from the likes of the Women’s Equality Party and Stonewall, who told the ASA what it wanted to hear.

As a result of the report, the rules on advertising were changed in late 2018 to outlaw advertisements that included ‘gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm’. And, last week, as a result of this rule, the ASA was able to ban two ads (both of which can be viewed here).

Exhibit one: an advert for a Volkswagen eGolf, a car with an electric motor. Volkswagen sought to draw attention to the car’s innovative nature with the strap line, ‘When we learn to adapt, we can achieve anything’. It illustrated this with a male rock-climber sleeping on a sheer cliff face, male astronauts performing mundane tasks in an extreme environment, a male para-athlete with a prosthetic leg doing the long jump, and a woman adjusting to life with a newborn. The point being that when the eGolf appears at the end of the advert it becomes clear that its designers had risen to the challenge of manufacturing a car with a quiet engine. In fact, it’s so quiet that it doesn’t wake the baby or register with its mother sitting on a park bench as it passes them.

The ASA ruled that the ad depicted men ‘as extraordinary and adventurous – scientific and career-based in the case of the astronauts and physical in the case of the athlete’, whereas the ad featured a woman sitting on a park bench next to a pram. The ASA concluded that the advert gave the impression that only men could be in extraordinary environments, ‘carrying out adventurous activities’, while giving the impression that women had to be ‘passive’ or engaged in a ‘care-giving role’. Accordingly, the ASA ruled that the ‘ad must not appear again’.

Exhibit two: an advert for Philadelphia cheese. It features two men, each with a baby, meeting in a restaurant by a conveyor belt of food. One says to the other, ‘New dad, too?’, and the other nods. The men then get distracted by offerings of Philadelphia cheese. Meanwhile, their babies are harmlessly travelling on the conveyor belt before the fathers notice, move across the room and pick them up. And to make light of it one of the men says to his baby, ‘Let’s not tell mum’.

The humorous indiscretion of two men in the face of Philadelphia cheese was evidence to the ASA of the stereotype that men are ‘unable to care for the children effectively’. This is such a calumny on the care-giving abilities of fatherhood, argued the ASA, that the ad had to be banned, before other men are led to believe that caring for children is only for women.

Stereotypes have received a bad press, but they are invariably based on truth. Hence, the use of men when an advertiser wants to appeal to our sense of adventure or physical prowess, and the use of women when an advertiser wants to create a sense of calm or empathy. If the gender roles in each of the two offending adverts had been reversed, the ads would have jarred with public perception and reality, and have been less funny.

In reality, men and women play different roles in society and these differences give rise to stereotypes. There are behaviours and characteristics that are associated with being male, just as there are different ones associated with being female. These gender roles develop from a combination of nature, nurture and self-will. This process happens within a framework of social need. The process of socialisation from birth onwards shapes individuals to play the roles that society needs. As society’s needs change, so the roles of men and women change. In other words, gender roles reflect the social needs of the day.

Most people have no problem with the differing roles played by women and men. For example, only three people complained to the ASA about the Volkswagen advert. And most people don’t feel trapped by gendered roles portrayed in adverts.

But the ASA, and much of today’s political elite, is not interested in gender roles that meet the needs and concerns of most people; its focus is on the aspirations of a few top women. And to this end it reshapes society, through ad bans, to serve their narrow interests.

Lucas wants women (and only women) to run the country. At least Ella Smillie only wants ‘equal representation’ for public-office holders. But both are seeking privileges for top women like them. They seek to challenge the notion that promotion should be based on effort and merit in favour of an approach that rewards top women because they are women. This self-serving clique with its associated ideology is harmful for society. Men and women should be left alone to perform the roles they choose, without any nannying oversight from those engaged in social engineering.

Jon Holbrook is a barrister. Follow him on Twitter: @JonHolb
His essay on ‘The Rise and Fall of the Rule of Law’ is published on 4 October in the book From Self to Selfie: A Critique of Contemporary Forms of Alienation, paperback £22.99.

Picture by: YouTube.

Feminists think stereotypes are only bad when other people use them

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Jim Lawrie

22nd August 2019 at 2:35 pm

Let the market decide. For me adverts and V shows steeped in political correctness are literally a turn off.

Sports Direct used to be a cheap and cheerful, stack ’em high, go to. In the last 2 years they have eliminated blonde, white and blue eyed from their images. They are in trouble.

Hana Jinks

25th August 2019 at 1:17 pm

Dim Bawrie.

Do you have anything to give account about at this stage?

You already have a serious problem, in that you already have a bad name.

Hana Jinks

25th August 2019 at 1:54 pm

I’m telling you now Dim that you dont have any priveleges on here any more.

I suggest you phark off and don’t argue about it.

c flap

22nd August 2019 at 11:21 am

Sick to death of these “campaigning public bodies” of which the BBC is the worst.

It is one thing for politicians such as Lucas to spount feminist non-sense and pursue a radical agenda, but quite another thing for the tax payer funded bureaucracy to do it.

ASA should be a boring bureaucratic organisation. If the ASA is making the news then this strongly indicates something is very wrong.

Gerard Barry

22nd August 2019 at 8:59 am

I always thought the purpose of advertising was to sell products and services, not brainwash people into a certain way of thinking. Silly me.

steve moxon

21st August 2019 at 7:10 pm

Stereotypes about the sexes most certainly do reflect reality.
Sex difference at root actually is sex dichotomy, and it is deepest biology and NOT through social construction. The facility to exhibit culture evolved because it served to provide feedback to fine-tune and reinforce the very biology from which it arose. The upshot is that culture never goes off at a tangent to biology other than superficially before even that withers away or is co-opted, as all returns to biological base, as it were.

James Knight

21st August 2019 at 5:31 pm

We are in a race to the bottom snowflakery.

It is feminists more than advertisers who promote outdated gender stereotypes about men and women. How much tripe do we read from feminists about men being unable to open up with their emotions? They think we are living in the 1950s and all men are like Prince Charles. This tired old stereotype is way out of touch; if anything there is too much “over-sharing” of emotions in the current social media age. On top of that nearly every Guardian article is written to the algorithm that women are victims. One brain-fart is that women in particular should not be sent to prison because – you got it – they only commit crimes due to being victims of men. Any discussion on female gang members invariably reaches the same conclusion. Women are victims, by definition.

The idea that women need female role models – “monkey see, monkey do” – is based on the stereotype of women being especially feeble minded.

Linda Payne

21st August 2019 at 3:55 pm

Adverts used to be funny; gone are the days of quality ads like ‘for mash get smash’ and ‘I’m a secret lemonade drinker’ were on our screens

Hana Jinks

23rd August 2019 at 3:01 am

Babydoll was right. You’re out of your mind.

Mark Bretherton

21st August 2019 at 12:39 pm

The ASA has no statutory powers. Advertisers should just ignore them until such time as OFCOM get involved.

Jane 70

21st August 2019 at 11:13 am

I can recall when adverts used to be funny and entertaining ; not any more.
These contrived pc -flavoured constructs are just boringly predictable and right-on.
How many people are truly influenced by adverts I wonder?

Ven Oods

21st August 2019 at 1:28 pm

Anything I watchnowadays is recorded so I can skip the ads. I don’t read the dead tree press, and my internet browser has an ad blocker.
So, the ASA can get on with making the world a PC echo chamber.

Jonnie Henly

21st August 2019 at 10:35 am

“Stereotypes have received a bad press, but they are invariably based on truth.”

Great, does this mean Spiked will stop complaining about the stereotype of Leave voters being stupid and/or racist? After all, it’s invariably based on truth……

Spiked thinks stereotypes are only bad when other people use them.

Hana Jinks

21st August 2019 at 3:49 pm

Good point.

steve moxon

21st August 2019 at 7:11 pm

A blatant lie is not a stereotype. It’s just a blatant lie.

christopher barnard

21st August 2019 at 10:17 am

Feminists are just a sub-group of the politically correct classes, people who are quick to accuse others of sins such as stereotyping while failing to notice that they do it more than most.

Another recent example of this is the left in the UK. They are forever accusing other people of racism while their ranks are riddled with racists who cannot hide their anti-Semitic attitudes.

Jonnie Henly

21st August 2019 at 10:38 am

“They are forever accusing other people of racism while their ranks are riddled with racists”

That sounds like a stereotype from you there. I guess you’re just another politically correct hypocrite then.

R P McMurphy

21st August 2019 at 10:05 am

Whatever happened to Gillette sales after they let a rabid man hater run a campaign where she demonized and ridiculed their core customers. All their products now banned along with their owners P&G in this household.

Puddy Cat

21st August 2019 at 8:15 am

Caroline Lucas’s comments are a sure sign of misandry. We do not know what went on in her life to form her views. We do not know of the trauma or her social relationships; it may be that she is as so out of some motivation other than the status of women generally rather her own history and its outcome.

The whole thing strikes one as being not an issue of fairness in society but coming under the thrall of those whose motivations are hard to fathom and the uniqueness in the world of personal emotional and intellectual experience.

To turn society into a mechanism seems antithetical, affirming the stereotypical. One of the many things that differentiates us from animals is our emotional development. There is an argument about the US and chlorinated chicken ‘infesting’ our food market and no one seems capable or willing to offer the argument that if you don’t like the idea then don’t eat it, you have a choice. With the same token, in making rules about association and gender stereotyping, we don’t have to accept such political trickery as the binary suggestions of Ms Lucas.

We do not define how relationships should progress because there is passion and evolution making all associations mystical. Can you use specificity about the nature of females while at the same time appealing to the diversity of females? Has the manual already been written? Yet, with the same token, some can refer to males as if they are made by prescription and because of our own life journey have come to know men in a particular light, as a club, an affiliation.

This is the misandry used casually and surgically by people offering blanket assertions to sway an argument and who will inevitably choose the sort of examples that support their rhetoric.

Gregory Buswell

21st August 2019 at 7:05 am

Anyone looking to TV advertising for ethics or morals is a bloody idiot.

Claire D

21st August 2019 at 6:51 am

Feminism today is a weapon in the arsenal of ambitious women. They now have equal opportunities, but have discovered that they cannot after all always successfully compete with men in public life. Therefore, if they cannot win fair and square they will try by stealth, hence #MeToo, ‘ the patriarchy ‘ and gender pay gap myths to induce guilt and demands for ‘ justice ‘; coupled with Equality and Diversity agendas to give direct advantage.
I don’t think all young feminists understand or are aware of the trajectory they are on, most of them have been brainwashed in their education by left wing, feminist teachers and lecturers, propaganda via the media and sometimes parents too.

Stereotypes, providing they are not rigid, serve a useful psychological and social purpose, which is to encourage both sexes to adopt their roles as men and women in a healthy and responsible manner.

H McLean

21st August 2019 at 12:49 am

When this institutionalised social engineering is given free rein under a Tory government it is hardly surprising people are increasingly disillusioned with and turning away from mainstream politics. It may sound like a meme or a trope but considering the way they undermine and erode the fabric of society the truth is feminism and the other branches of identitarianism really ARE a cancer on society. Also, there is no left/right dichotomy when it comes to this. Parties of the mainstream right are for all practical purposes just as in committed to neoMarxist identity politics as the unhinged left.

Jonnie Henly

21st August 2019 at 10:37 am

You really shouldn’t go round calling the left or anyone else “unhinged” when you go on about “neoMarxist identity politics”.

Trying to pin identity politics entirely on “neo Marxism” (largely a made up term) is defiantly nothing more than a trope.

jessica christon

21st August 2019 at 12:11 pm

The ID left are masters of throwing about ‘made up terms’ and ‘tropes’ like islamophobic, transphobic, micro-agressor, mansplaining, fat-shaming, etc to but you seem ok with that. You demonstrate the point of this article; it’s only wrong when people you disagree with do it.

Jonnie Henly

21st August 2019 at 2:01 pm

They’re really not though, since tropes like that existed decades before there was any semblance of the “ID left”, which is itself a made up trope.

So are you okay with said tropes then, or are you a hypocrite?

“You demonstrate the point of this article; it’s only wrong when people you disagree with do it.”
Given your own apparent hypocrisy on this subject, the lack of self awareness in your comment is staggering.

H McLean

21st August 2019 at 2:34 pm

That’s rather shrill of you John. If you think neoMarxism is a meaningless made up trope then I’m afraid you’re sadly embarrassing yourself with your lack of cognisance of the realities of modern politics. Either that or you’re being disingenuous. Neither is a good look.

steve moxon

21st August 2019 at 7:16 pm

As ever, Jon Hen fails his basic ‘history of the Left’ class.
This is never ever going away, you bigot. The Left will have to own its own faeces sooner or later, and the longer the Left is apoplectic and refuses to fess up, the more egg will be permanently sticking to its hate-mongering elitist-separatist fraudulent face.

Neil McCaughan

21st August 2019 at 8:04 pm

All political terms are “made up”. You’d have to be abnormally gormless to have missed that … but then ….

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