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Issue brief - Portrayal of gender



The subject of stereotypical portrayals of men and, more particularly, women in advertising has provoked much public debate over the last 25 years. In France in particular, there has been discussion of so-called ‘porno chic’, i.e. the use of sexually explicit images, nudity and provocative themes in advertisements for clothes, perfumes or cosmetics. In this instance, the French SRO (ARPP) engaged in dialogue with the French Ministry of Equal Opportunities and undertook to monitor this issue in French media on a regular basis and report the findings. The results are published regularly by the ARPP.

Over the course of 2008, the issue of gender portrayal was considered by EASA’s Self-Regulatory Committee, which drafted a guidance note for EASA members. This guidance note, approved by the EASA Board in 2009, is designed to assist the advertising industry and SROs in ensuring that women and men continue to be portrayed positively and responsibly in advertising.



Self-regulatory rules

In regulatory terms, this topic falls partly under the general heading of taste and decency and partly under the more specific one of discrimination, summed up in article 4 of the Consolidated ICC Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice, which states that “advertisements should respect human dignity and should not incite or condone any form of discrimination, including that based upon race, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation”. All the European national codes of advertising practice incorporate article 4 of the ICC Code and many go further, in terms of specific rules on the portrayal of gender. The differing rules to be found in different countries reflect the varied cultural values and social customs which exist within the EU and the wider Europe. In 2001 for example, in reaction to the prevalence of ‘porno chic’ advertisements in France, the ARPP drew up the Recommendations de l’image de la personne humaine (Recommendations on the portrayal of human beings) to prevent offences against ‘decency and dignity’.



Levels of complaints

The level of complaints to SROs in EASA membership about the portrayal of women has declined over the years, whereas the number of complaints regarding the portrayal of men are constant and at a very low level. The total number of complaints about the portrayal of women increased from 2.06% in 2006 to 3.63% in 2007 and then declined again to 2.33% in 2008. Complaints regarding the portrayal of men peaked in 2006 at 0.95% decreasing to 0.73% in 2007 and to 0.64% in 2008.



Further information

The European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment and Social Affairs released a Community Framework Strategy on Gender Equality (2001-2005), followed by A Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010, in which one of the key objectives outlined is “Promoting Change of Gender Roles and Stereotypes”. This Strategy and Roadmap include recommendations on the portrayal of gender in advertising and the media.


In 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe held a hearing on the portrayal of women in advertising, with a view to releasing a recommendation. EASA and its members participated in the hearing and submitted a report on the issue to the Council. The resulting non-binding resolution was adopted in June 2007.

In 2008, the European Parliament plenary adopted an own-initiative non-binding report on gender stereotyping. It calls for the establishment of a body, to which the public can address complaints about gender stereotypes in marketing and advertising.