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

A new report by the Advertising Standards Authority says a “tougher” stance must be taken on negative gender stereotyping.

Dads don’t go to Iceland. In fact, they can’t. Have you ever seen a dad in Iceland? No! Don’t be stupid. It’s mums that go to Iceland – if they find the time after being magnetically pulled towards that bloke on the beach with a can of Lynx Africa and emptying the Fairy Liquid for their offspring to make a rocket with. Hang on, what’s that her husband’s eating? It’s a Yorkie – you know, for boys. If girls eat them, they die.

Adverts are chock-full of gendered messaging – and obviously it’s not all bad. No one seriously thinks girls can’t handle “man crisps” McCoys or that dads that go to Iceland will be beaten out by Kerry Katona wielding a 24 Piece King Prawn Party Selection. Yet many adverts feature insidious messages that can slowly shape our perception of the world. Are all women supposed to be at the kitchen sink? Is yoghurt really the source of a woman’s orgasm? Are men incapable of looking after their own children and are they all sofa oafs unwilling – nay, unable – to iron a shirt or clean a kitchen tap?

Gender stereotypes like these have a negative impact on both women and men. A new report on gender stereotyping in advertising by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) argues that gender stereotypes “can lead to mental, physical and social harm which can limit the potential of groups and individuals”. In particular, young children easily internalise the messages they see. The report, entitled Deceptions, Perceptions, and Harm, argues that a “tougher line” needs to be taken on ads with stereotypical gender roles, or ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes.

Before now, the ASA has regulated adverts that sexualise women or present women who are unhealthily thin. Now, the CAP (who author the UK Advertising Codes) will develop new standards for ads that feature gender stereotypes, and the ASA will enforce these rules.

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“Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards in the areas we’ve identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented,” explained Ella Smillie, the lead author of the report.

This doesn’t mean you’ll no longer see mums doing the washing or dads mowing the lawn. The regulations haven’t yet been drawn up, but the report has examples of problematic adverts. If a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up while her family make a mess, for example, this could be flagged. In turn, adverts that show men trying and failing to do simple household tasks will be deemed a problem. The ASA isn’t a pre-emptive body, so they won’t go around mercilessly banning these adverts in a way that would make your dad (or mum, or sister) scream “political correctness gone mad!”. Rather, the organisation deals with complaints the public make and then issues sanctions if advertisers break the CAP code.

So, are you beach body ready? This infamous advert was part of the inspiration behind the new report and upcoming regulations. Although complaints about the ad were upheld by the ASA, this was in fact because Protein World, the advertiser, was making false claims about health and nutrition. The sexism in the advert that many objected to was not regulated by the ASA, and thus exposed a gap in its policies.

There are many similar adverts that have prompted complaints about gender stereotyping but that the ASA has not investigated or sanctioned because of this gap in the current regulations. An advert for Aptamil baby milk prompted complaints when it inferred boys could grow up to be rock climbers while girls become ballerinas. The ASA did not find grounds for a formal investigation. Last August, Gap was accused of sexism in adverts where boys were labelled “little scholars” and girls “social butterflies”. The ASA did not investigate after Gap took the adverts down itself following social media backlash.

Yet it is not just women who are limited by gender stereotypes in advertising. Between 2015 and 2016, the ASA considered 1,378 complaints related to the depiction of women and men. Of these, 465 cases dealt with the portrayal of men.

The ASA did not uphold complaints against a KFC advert which featured two men arguing about who was more manly. When one man mocked the other for having scented candles, the mocked man replied: “You know those candles help with my anxiety...  You're a monster.” Many complaints said the advert equated anxiety with a lack of masculinity, perpetuating the view that men should not admit to mental health issues. Under its old regulations, the ASA did not consider the ad would cause serious or widespread offence, or perpetuate damaging stereotypes. Though it is as yet unclear whether the new rules would see this advert banned, it is encouraging that similar adverts will now be challenged by the regulations.

And that’s the crux of it. Though many blame “feminazis” for narrowing the confines of acceptable and unacceptable media, these regulations should be celebrated even by those who don’t consider themselves feminist. Although a single advert might not make a man feel as though he has to behave or look a certain way, the ASA’s report explains how adverts can cumulatively affect us. Women and men aren’t born thinking they can do this or can’t do that – our media helps to shape this. “While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA.

So if Fairy Liquid, or Iceland, or Yorkie can make little boys and little girls feel that anything is possible – why shouldn’t they? Besides, aren’t we all bored of seeing lazy men and uptight women on TV? Shouldn't adverts be a little more imaginative? 

The CAP will report publicly on its progress developing the new rules by the end of 2017, with the new standards coming into force in 2018. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Spudgun67 via Creative Commons/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
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It might be a pseudo science, but students take the threat of eugenics seriously

Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudo-science to bolster their political arguments.

In January, the London Student published my investigation, which showed that the controversial columnist Toby Young attended the London Conference on Intelligence, secretly held at University College London. Shortly afterwards, I mentioned to someone in a pub smoking area that I go to UCL. “Did you hear about the eugenics conference?” he asked me.

He was an international student from Africa. “I applied to UCL partly because I thought it was safer than other universities, but now I’m not so sure. I worry about how many other professors hold the same opinions.”

A protest outside the UCL Provost’s office after the article was published attracted scores of students. “I have a right to come to university and not fear for my safety,” one told the crowd, exasperated. “Nothing has been done, and that’s what really scares me.”

While hecklers derided the protest as an overreaction, students have good reason for taking eugenics seriously. UCL has a long history of support for scientific racism, beginning with Francis Galton, the Victorian polymath who, among other achievements, founded the science of eugenics. UCL’s Galton Chair in National Eugenics, which survived under that name until 1996, was first held by Karl Pearson, another ardent racial eugenicist. Pearson talked about creating a nation from “the better stocks” while conducting war with the “inferior races”, and in 1925 co-authored an article published in the Annals of Eugenics warning of the dangers of allowing Russian and Polish Jewish children into Britain. The London Conference on Intelligence was held in a building named in Pearson’s honour.

Eugenics is most closely associated in the popular imagination with fascism, and the twisted ideology of the Nazi party. Yet racial eugenics was closely linked to wider European imperialism, as illustrated by one object in the Galton collection, contributed by Pearson. Dr. Eugene Fischer’s hair colour scale is a selection of 30 different synthetic hair varieties in a tin box, a continuous scale from European to African. Fischer’s work was used in the early 20th century by Germany to ascertain the whiteness of Namibia’s mixed-race population, even before it was used by the Nazis to design the Nuremburg Laws. In apartheid South Africa, Afrikaans researchers used his tools as late as the 1960s.

Its importance to the imperial project meant that eugenics enjoyed widespread support in British scientific and political establishments. Galton’s Eugenics Society, set up to spread eugenicist ideas and push for eugenic policies, had branches in Birmingham, Liverpool, Cambridge, Manchester, Southampton and Glasgow, drawing hundreds of academics to their meetings. It was a movement of the educated middle class, including leading progressives such as John Maynard Keynes, Marie Stopes and the Fabians. Society presidents hailed from the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, and UCL.

With this history in mind, it is easier to understand why students take the UCL eugenics scandal so seriously. Science journalist Angela Saini, who has been researching the history of race science for her upcoming book, argues that the problem lies in the co-opting of pseudoscience for political purposes. “These people are on the fringes, they’re not respected in mainstream academia,” she says. “The problem is when people like Toby Young come in from outside and use these studies to promote their own political agenda.” (Young said he attended the conference purely for research).

The rise of the far-right in Europe and America also means that the tolerance afforded to racist pseudoscience is not a purely academic question. Today’s white nationalists and neo-Nazis make extensive use of racist pseudoscience to bolster their political arguments.

Our investigation into the London Conference on Intelligence uncovered the involvement of at least 40 academics from at least 29 different universities in 15 different countries. Among these was the Oxford academic Noah Carl, a postdoctoral researcher in the social sciences at Nuffield College, who has spoken twice at the London Conference on Intelligence. Carl has also written several papers for Emil Kirkegaard’s OpenPsych, which include two looking at whether larger Muslim populations make Islamist terrorism more likely, and one suggesting that British stereotypes towards immigrants are “largely accurate”.

One external reviewer responded to the last paper by stating that: “It is never OK to publish research this bad, even in an inconsequential online journal.” Nevertheless, the paper was featured by conservative US website The Daily Caller, under a picture of Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. The far right European Free West Media cited the paper to claim that “criminal elements are represented by certain ethnic groups”, and on the blog of a far-right French presidential candidate under the headline “Study validates prejudices”. It even ended up on InfoWars, one of the most popular news websites in the USA, and can be found circulating on far-right corners of Reddit. The fact that Carl is linked to Oxford University was mentioned frequently in the coverage, providing legitimacy to the political opinions presented.

Another contributor to the London Conference on Intelligence was Adam Perkins of King’s College London, whose book The Welfare Trait proposed that “aggressive, rule-breaking and anti-social personality characteristics” can be “bred out” of society by reducing child support for those on the lowest incomes. Perkins actively engaged with far-right media outlets in promoting his book, appearing in hour-long interviews with Stefan Molyneux and Tara McCarthy. Molyneux doesn’t “view humanity as a single species because we are not all the same”, and argues that “ordinary Africans were better off under colonialism”. McCarthy was banned from YouTube for alleging a conspiracy to commit “white genocide”, and supports deporting naturalised citizens and “killing them if they resist”. Perkins himself attracted criticism last year for tweeting, alongside data from Kirkegaard, that Trump’s Muslim ban “makes sense in human capital terms”.

Perkins is not the first KCL academic to use his platform to promote contested science in the far-right press. In the 1980s, the Pioneer Fund supported the work of Hans Eysenck, whose work has been credited by his biographer with helping to “revive the confidence” of “right-wing racialist groups” such as the National Front by providing an “unexpected vindication from a respectable scientific quarter”. The original mandate of the Pioneer Fund was the pursuit of “race betterment”; it is considered a hate group by the US civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Center. KCL did not respond to a request for comment.

An association with a high profile university can help bigots to legitimise their beliefs, but the infiltration of mainstream academia by eugenicists is even more complex than this.

After we exposed his involvement with eugenicists, Toby Young pointed out that the conference at which he actually spoke, that of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR), was “super-respectable” and attended by “numerous world-renowned academics”.

He is entirely correct. The ISIR is home to many great scientists, and its journal Intelligence is one of the most respected in its field. Yet Richard Lynn, who has called for the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures”, serves on the editorial board of Intelligence, along with fellow director of the Pioneer Fund Gerhard Meisenberg, who edits Lynn’s journal Mankind Quarterly. Two other board members are Heiner Rindermann and Jan te Nijenhuis, frequent contributors to Mankind Quarterly and the London Conference on Intelligence. Rindermann, James Thompson, Michael Woodley of Menie and Aurelio Figueredo, all heavily implicated in the London Conference on Intelligencehelped to organise recent ISIR conferences. Linda Gottfredson, a Pioneer Fund grantee and former president of the ISIR, famously authored a letter in the Wall Street Journal defending Charles Murray’s assertion that black people are genetically disposed to an average IQ of “around 85”, compared to 100 for whites.

The tolerance afforded to eugenicists threatens the reputation of respectable scientists. Stephen Pinker, the world-renowned cognitive psychologist, spoke at last year’s ISIR conference. Another speaker at the conference, however, was the aforementioned Emil Kirkegaard, a “self-taught” eugenicist who has written a “thought experiment” which discusses whether raping a drugged child could be defended, and whose research into OKCupid made international headlines for its “grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible” use of personal data.

Saini spoke to Richard Haier, editor-in-chief of Intelligence, about the involvement of Lynn and Meisenberg. “He defended their involvement on the basis of academic freedom,” she recalled. “He said he’d prefer to let the papers and data speak for themselves.”

Publishing well-researched papers that happen to be written by eugenicists is one thing, but putting them in positions of editorial control is quite another. “Having researched Lynn and Meisenberg, I fail to understand how Intelligence can justify having these two on the editorial board,” Saini said. “I find that very difficult to understand. Academic freedom does not require that these people are given any more space than their research demands – which for a discredited idea like racial eugenics is frankly minuscule.” I contacted the ISIR but at time of publishing had received no response.

UCL has published several statements about the London Conference on Intelligence since my investigation. In the latest, released on 18 January 2018, the university said it hoped to finish an investigation within weeks. It said it did not and had not endorsed the conference, and had formally complained to YouTube about the use of a doctored UCL logo on videos posted online. UCL’s President described eugenics as “complete nonsense” and added: “I am appalled by the concept of white supremacy and will not tolerate anything on campus that incites racial hatred or violence.” UCL management has also agreed to engage with students concerned about buildings being named after eugenicists.

UCL’s statement also stressed its obligation “to protect free speech on campus, within the law, even if the views expressed are inconsistent with the values and views of UCL”.

Yet there is a direct link between the tolerance of eugenicists in academia and the political rise of the far-right. Journals and universities that allow their reputations to be used to launder or legitimate racist pseudo-science bear responsibility when that pseudo-science is used for political ends. As one UCL student put it: “This is not about freedom of speech – all violence begins with ideas. We feel threatened, and we want answers.”

Ben van der Merwe is a student journalist.