MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australia’s adland is silencing a third (30%*) of people concerned by potentially sexist content in advertising, such as dangerous female stereotypes, according to new research.
In November 2021, Australian advertising equality movement shEqual surveyed 598 advertising professionals. It found that almost one in three (30%*) reported hesitating to call out gender equality issues in ad content due to fears of negative consequences. Other reasons for not speaking up included feeling it wasn’t their place (30%*), they weren’t senior enough (29%*), and a lack of experience (27%*).
Conversely, the research also showed that depictions of women that were respectful (93%*), realistic (88%*), and diverse (89%*) were extremely, or very important to respondents.
“Our data shows a disconnect between the intentions and actions of the industry in depicting women,” says Dianne Hill, CEO of Women’s Health Victoria, the organization leading the shEqual movement. “It’s encouraging that the motivation is there, but the missing piece is an open dialogue on what representation looks like in 2022.”
To help advertisers discuss the depiction of women shEqual has launched a new resource to help creatives, strategists, and brands identify and erase problematic stereotypes. The guide, Female Stereotypes in Advertising, lays out some common stereotypes currently in use in advertising and the real-world harm these shallow depictions can have. The purpose of the guide, along with upcoming video and social content created by Icon Agency, is to drive much-needed conversations about the representation of women in creative content.
“The average Australian sees 5,000** adverts a day, so it’s hard to overestimate the power they have to influence peoples’ views,” says Dianne Hill. “It’s vital for the health and wellbeing of women that ads don’t reinforce harmful expectations and social norms. A good starting point is removing caricatures of women in advertising and replacing them with more realistic and diverse representations of women.”
The report highlights seven recurring stereotypes in depictions of women:
- The Model Mother: Women are disproportionately shown as the primary caretakers of both home and children – caring, dressing, cooking, and cleaning.
- The Passive Little Girl: Ads show boys engaging in active play and girls sitting passively, often with one another, playing with dolls and house appliances and everything is pink.
- The Observed Woman: The observed woman loses her agency and authority in the male gaze.
- The Sexualised Woman: This stereotype demonstrates that a woman’s value comes only from her sex appeal.
- The Pretty Face: This stereotype can be more subtle but shows women as secondary and “just a pretty face” without much intelligence or independence.
- The Magical Grandmother: Older women are generally missing from ads, but when they are shown they are often in the kitchen serving food, smiling and supporting younger characters, with few spoken lines.
- The Ticked Box: Characters are included to check diversity boxes but are commonly limited to the background.
Many other women were broadly absent from ads, including women with disabilities, women with larger bodies, queer women, older women, and women of color – especially First Nations women.
shEqual warns that the pervasiveness of shallow stereotypes in Australian advertising has damaging real-world effects – and their work is supported by United Nations research that shows that gender stereotypes can perpetuate inequality and limit women’s autonomy and freedom.
“Sexist ads fuel a culture of gender inequity that perpetuates violence against women, with one in three* reporting having experienced physical or sexual violence.
“Our data shows that two-thirds* of the industry agree that gender stereotypes are a contributing factor to this issue. It’s time that these demeaning conventions are dispelled to help prevent further harm to women,” Ms. Hill added.
The launch of the Female Stereotypes in Advertising guide is supported by a series of videos that capture a panel of leading industry voices discussing female stereotypes and how the industry can combat them.
The panel event will be hosted by comedian and TV presenter Alex Lee and features Dhivia Pilai (Senior Strategist, TBWA), Sarah Vincenzini (Associate Creative Director, M&C Saatchi), Niall Hughes (Group Account Director, Icon Agency), Anathea Ruys (CEO, UM Australia), Irene Joshy (Head of Creative, Insights, Kantar Asia & Australia) and Fiona Le Brocq (Senior Executive, Brand, Marketing & CX, Medibank).
“Involving leading industry professionals in this discussion is vital to ensure that this message reaches all corners of the advertising and communications sector,” said Dianne Hill.
“We need a richer discussion on what actions the industry can take to banish stereotypes of women, which is why we’re thrilled to start this dialogue with respected industry heavyweights and emerging talent.”
The panel is being hosted by Icon Agency at its recently launched digital production studio, The Content Garden, in the Cremorne Innovation Precinct.
Icon Agency Managing Director and co-Founder Joanne Painter, said: “Challenging inequality through advertising, storytelling, and communications starts with the people working in the industry. Gender and cultural diversity are deeply ingrained in Icon’s DNA; they are a source of pride. At Icon, we’re committed to ensuring the work we create offers realistic depictions of Australia’s complexity and diversity.”
Icon was last year awarded a prestigious B&T diversity award, along with three Agency of the Year recognitions.
“As a female and co-founded agency, we’re proud to lend our support to shEqual by hosting this event. We hope this panel facilitates insightful discussion and combat harmful stereotypes in advertising,” said Joanne.
“The conversation on depictions of women must build momentum,” says Dianne Hill. “We’re hoping the entire industry can leverage this event, the videos, and the guide to spark meaningful conversations in the places that matter. We don’t have all the answers, but if we work together, we can support a true shifting of standards and dismantle these stereotypes.”.
For more information about shEqual and to view the Female Stereotypes in Advertising guide, visit shequal.com.au/research-and-resources/