Gender stereotypes: still not funny

Are you a domestic obsessive, a selfless nurturer or a fraught juggler?  Or perhaps you identify more as a sex object or unattainable goddess? If so, according to the TV advertising of the past 50 years, you are a woman

Last year, to coincide with International Women’s Day in March, the Museum of Brands in London looked back over 50 years of commercials and defined six common female stereotypes in advertising. Joining the five above is ‘the bit part’, perhaps the most common depiction of women of all. According to the Geena Davis Institute’s report on Gender Bias in Advertising, men get approximately four times more screen time than women in ads. And this is based on looking at commercials that have won at Cannes Lions from 2006–16, so we can’t even blame it on more antiquated times.

Both the report and the Museum of Brands’ categorisations are wince-inducing but unsurprising. Advertising has long been accused of presenting outdated visions of family life, and of gender roles. While recent years have seen a plethora of ‘female empowerment’ ads, from Always’ Like A Girl film to State Street’s Fearless Girl sculpture, in regular commercials little has changed. Over to the Geena Davis Institute’s report again: “This research shows that our industry has ‘tent-pole moments’ — amazing actions or campaigns when we all rally around women, but when it comes to creating our ‘regular’ ads for our ‘regular’ clients, we forget about them,” says Brent Choi, Chief Creative Officer of J Walter Thompson, New York.

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