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Media: CSA adopts code of conduct to fight sexist and stereotypical advertising

16:39 02/08/2022

The broadcasting authority for French-speaking Belgium (CSA) has adopted a new code of conduct regarding advertising deemed sexist, hypersexualised or promoting gender stereotypes. 

“[The objective] is above all to give the sector, and a priori publishers, a set of guidelines, more precise rules on sexist and hypersexualised advertising and in reality also change mentalities on these issues,” Saba Parsa, vice-president of CSA, told RTBF. 

The method of determining whether an ad promotes gender stereotypes or is sexist or hypersexualised was designed through a series of working meetings with experts and actors in the field. 

The first article of the code consists of detailed definitions, which include subcategories and acknowledges the intersectionality that can occur between them.

A definition for objectification reads, in part: “the process of reducing a person to a body that can be viewed, evaluated and used by others. The objectified person is thus dehumanised in the sense that they are reduced to their appearance and their utilitarian and/or sexual functions to the detriment of their personality.”

Parsa emphasised that the code was specifically targeting excessive amounts of such types of advertisements.

“It is above all the excess. That's really what the code says. The excessive, inappropriate content,” Parsa said.

“We are not saying, for example, that we can no longer sell swimwear by showing young women or men in swimwear. We are saying that it is not necessarily needed and does not serve the purpose of advertising to sell a car by showing a young woman in a bikini on the vehicle, for example.”

Young people ‘don’t recognise themselves in these ads’

One of the driving forces of the new code, especially when it comes to doing away with gender stereotypes, is a younger generation of consumers.

“The younger generations, those who are now in universities and colleges, do not recognise themselves in this kind of advertising. It’s no longer their reality,” Parsa said.

“Advertisers, therefore, will have to use other strategies to win the hearts of these young audiences.”

Promotion of gender stereotypes from a young age via advertisement can have negative mental health outcomes for men and women alike, including its ability to “lock in” a certain role or trait to a gender, Parsa explained.

That this reform comes from the CSA is likely to hold more weight than previous attempts to remove harmful gendered messaging from advertising spaces.

The Jury of Advertising Ethics (JEP), which is responsible for self-regulation and sanctioning hypersexualised or sexist advertising, has itself produced sexist advertisements.

In 2017, one of its advertisements featured a woman with curlers in her hair holding multiple cleaning tools with the tagline: “Live your dream, train for this job.” 

The advert was sanctioned and JEP acknowledged that it was inappropriate, but that such a blatantly sexist advertisement came from an organisation tasked with sanctioning sexist advertisement was especially condemnable. 

Still, Parsa said JEP helped collaborate on the new code with the CSA and that the organisation “does a very good job”. 

Practical guide to follow

The CSA is expected to produce a practical guide to the new code of conduct in the near future. 

“It seemed important to us not to limit ourselves to this code of conduct. We would like to work with the same actors, with experts, with publishers and advertisers, to produce a practical guide that will really help them and even more to work on training,” Parsa explained.

“We are convinced that this is really necessary. We can't simply do this by sanctioning. We also have to train people and train young people as well.”

Parsa wants this training to include people of all ages, with the acknowledgement that it’s younger people who are often most affected by harmful advertisements that enforce outdated gender stereotypes or promote sexism. 

Image: CSA Facebook page

Written by Helen Lyons