Recently the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committee voted on a report on how marketing and advertising effect equality between men and women. We are surrounded by advertising in our day-to-day lives in newspapers, magazines, poster advertising, on the web and of course, on television. Advertisers are very talented at creating and reflecting trends in society in order to sell their products. To communicate with us their messages need to be very clear and pared down. Sometimes though, the necessity to be clear can lead advertisers to oversimplify a situation or to stereotype people. This can become a serious problem if the same message about a certain group of people is enforced over and over again. Children are particularly susceptible to the messages of advertising and we need to be careful that we are not giving them a skewed view of the world. For example, a recent British Medical Council Report highlights the fact that while advertising featuring extremely thin women does not directly cause eating disorders in young women, they do contribute to the problem by reinforcing the message that ‘thin’ equals good, successful and in control.
This is not to say that all advertising is bad, in fact, in the UK are lucky as Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority have very clear guidelines about stereotyping in advertising, and advertisers themselves have been good at avoiding direct stereotyping. It is no longer good enough in the UK to put a woman in a bikini beside a car or piece of furniture in order to sell it. British consumers demand more from advertising and as a result the bulk of our advertising is clever, sharp and often very witty.
Unfortunately this is not the case across the EU. In some countries women are still objectified like a product in order to sell a product. This is plainly wrong as it reinforces the message that women can literally be bought and sold. One of the positive things about the EU is that member states can learn from each others successes.
In Parliament’s report, I tabled amendments that were examples of best practice from the UK that were calling for a European-wide set of standards that advertisers could use to self-regulate, much like we already do here in the UK. The report is going to be voted on by the entire parliament in September and I am hopeful that these measures will go through. I believe it’s a really important step in the battle for equality between women and men.