Farewell Ken

Under Boris catchy ‘headline’ policies like a new routemaster bus and a no-strike deal with the RMT

So, the election in London is over, we’ve lost a great Mayor, gained an uncertain future and kept our two Green Assembly Members in the face of an almighty squeeze. After a week of catching up on sleep, meeting the babies my friends produced during the campaign and – importantly – reacquainting myself with the local pub, it’s time to reflect.

Although as predicted I am not Mayor, the Greens did remarkably well, all things considered. The thousands of new voters turning out to vote for either Boris or Ken rightly made all the other parties nervous about their vote shares. When we arrived at City Hall on Friday afternoon last week, we had to rely on staring at the relative sizes of the Labour and Tory Assembly votes that were being displayed on plasma screens (via the patented London Elects scale-free bar chart system, which seems to be specifically designed to make candidates nervous). As we tried to work out what each extra chunk on our electronic columns meant in the real world, it did at first look like we would be facing the same level of squeeze that the Scottish Greens saw last year, and which resulted in them losing five of their seven MSPs.

However, as the evening wore tensely on, it became clear that our vote had stood up to the challenge, and that we’d added as many voters as the turnout demanded to keep a virtually identical vote share on the Assembly list as in 2004. In the final count we ended up with exactly the same number of AMs as before, and my vote share in the Mayoral race went up slightly, with around 25,000 extra first preference bringing me in at fourth place (up three on last time). Full results from London Elects here.

Other parties did not fare so well. UKIP and One London were wiped off the Assembly completely, and the LibDems lost two of their five AMs when their Assembly vote went down nearly 7%. Mayor candidate Brian Paddick lost them nearly 5%, too, with an overall reduction in voter numbers for the LibDems of more than 50,000. Our campaign, while it felt a lot like running very hard to stand still, at least saved us from being squeezed like this and, if our extra votes turn out to be from people switching from other parties, rather than new voters coming in to bash Ken or stop Boris, it may mean we are set for a hefty percentage increase in the Euro elections next year.

What’s concerning me in the short term, however, is what our new Tory Mayor will do now. I can guarantee some things we won’t see. Catchy ‘headline’ policies like a new routemaster bus, a no-strike deal with the RMT, and rephasing traffic lights to solve congestion, are all likely to fold quicker than you can say ‘ethical foreign policy’, and I predict we will see them shelved as quietly as possible by the new team in City Hall over the next few months.

On the other hand, Johnson’s pledge to cancel the new £25 congestion charge for gas-guzzlers can be achieved all too easily. After a few days off, I’ll be getting together with my colleagues on the 4x4 campaign and with cycling groups (the money raised by the new C-Charge was earmarked to support new cycling facilities for the next decade, so it’s their concern too) to work out our next move. Watch this space…

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA