There’s going to be an investigation into sexist advertising

Reaction to the Protein World ads highlighted a need for change

Advertising is not reality. It contrives and manipulates to create the image most likely to convince us to buy things. No one is duped by advertising, really.

But being duped is not the same as being disheartened. And advertising pitched at women is disheartening. You know that much of it is false and Photoshopped – that those hewn abs are likely softer in real life – but the unreality of the images means that women are increasingly alienated from what their bodies are meant to look like at all.

The promotion of an unrealistic physical ideal is just one problem. Advertising is regularly patronising, and adheres to traditional gendered roles. That’s damaging for both men and women. Obviously: it’s not the most pernicious of the world’s sexist ills. Buying something is a choice that we’re lucky to have, etc. But just because it’s not the worst part about being on the planet doesn’t mean it’s not worth addressing.

Which someone is: the Advertising Standards Agency has announced today that it will be investigating sexism and “negative gender stereotyping” in advertising. It reports that it wants to show that it is “serious” about dealing with both problems. The watchdog states that it will commission new research into gender stereotyping in advertising and will listen to the views of organisations and members of the public.

Increasingly, sexist adverts are submitted to the frenzied fury of social media. For example: that Protein World advert (“Are you beach body ready?”) was either an advert or body fascism in an advert, depending on your viewpoint. But the pitchforks and flamethrowers of social media are typically more self-serving than they are effective and there was nothing in between; the ASA received 378 complaints about it last year, though it ruled ultimately that it was “not offensive”.

Catherine Wylie/PA Wire

“The objectification and sexualisation of women in ads, presenting an idealised or unrealistic body image, the mocking of women and men in non-stereotypical roles, the reinforcement of stereotyped views of gender roles, and gender-specific marketing to children are all issues that have gained considerable public interest,” said an ASA spokesman.

“As a proactive regulator, the ASA wants to find out more about these issues. We will be doing three things: examining evidence on gender stereotyping in ads, seeking views from a range of stakeholders and commissioning our own research into public opinion.”