The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has imposed a ban on gender stereotypes in advertising, and after a substantial pause so all the ad companies could get their stories straight, it went into effect in June. Just recently, the first two ads that didn’t conform with gender nonconformity were pulled from the air. One was for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, the other for Volkswagen. Both were deemed sexist in their presentation of traditional gender roles.
As it turns out, so-called gender equality is all about destroying the traditional idea of parenting.
The ad for Philly Cream Cheese features two dads who are too distracted by the delicious, cream cheesy lunch options at a restaurant to notice that their respective babies had somehow ended up on the buffet conveyor belt, much like the recent viral video of a toddler on a baggage carousel. The ad was judged sexist because it showed an absentminded father who didn’t want to tell mom he’d momentarily misplaced the baby. The UK’s ASA apparently doesn’t want to see dads taking charge of their kids and doing a mediocre job of it. This is either because it doesn’t believe dads ever do a mediocre job or because it thinks we should only show the ideal parenting scenario when we advertise cream cheese.
Furthering the sexism is that the moms are portrayed as the only responsible parents—only they won’t let their kids end up on conveyor belts over insatiable cravings for cream cheese. The dad feels accountable to the mom for the baby’s well-being, as well he should. Yet despite the ASA’s push for moms and dads to be shown taking equivalent parenting responsibility, moms typically, traditionally, bear the brunt of child care—both physically and in emotional and mental space.
Moms don’t do this because they are forced to, or because they are relegated to the diminutive role of motherhood. They do it because they want to, because motherhood is awesome, and once undertaken, it has certain requirements that mothers want to fulfill. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Moms are badass and they care. That doesn’t mean dads don’t; but still, showing a mom forgetting her baby on a carousel simply wouldn’t be convincing enough to sell cream cheese. That’s not gender stereotyping—it’s gender truth.
The VW Golf ad that was banned is a montage. It begins with a woman and a man camped out in a tent on the side of a mountain. Cut to a kitchen, where another woman makes a sandwich, then pours laundry detergent in the washer. A header reads, “When we learn to adapt…” as two men float in zero gravity in what appears to be the International Space Station. Another man, or maybe it’s one of the two, does a long jump, using his artificial bionic leg. Another header pops up, finishing the previous phrase: “…we can achieve anything.” Finally, a woman sits on a bench by a park, a stroller at her side, a backpack next to her, a book in her lap. The car—the product that’s being advertised—takes the corner.
Presumably what is sexist about this is that it is a woman caring for the child. Instead of fulfilling her dreams of space travel and long jumps, must go the ASA’s thought process, she’s sitting there like some loser taking care of a snot-nosed kid. How diminutive! How derogatory! The ASA doesn’t want women to look at the TV and see their experiences of motherhood reflected back at them, or for little girls to look at the VW Golf commercial and think, “Look, a mum doing mum things.” The ASA prefers to see women in space and long jumping with bionic limbs, because it has such a shallow view of motherhood that it doesn’t accept the intense risk associated with it.
In both of these ads, what was supposedly sexist was that women were shown as more committed to motherhood than men were to fatherhood. Most moms would tell you that speaks to their experience 100 percent. If showing a woman caring for a child more than a man is sexist, then so is the entire experience of parenting. And these advertising regulations won’t change anything. Women will still do more parental heavy lifting, and in many cases, even with the most committed partners, they’ll still want to.
Women who have children care for them all the time. Stats bear out that women do more housework and more child care than their male counterparts, especially those who are on the space station and won’t be around to help with the diapers for at least another several dozen orbits.
An advertiser’s job is to sell us aspirations. The new aspiration, as mandated in the UK, is demanding that there be no differences between men and women, and that traditional parenting roles are sexist. We have developed the false idea that if we say there are no distinctions between the sexes in as many ways as possible, they will disappear.
Demanding total gender equality in this way does a disservice to women whose experiences are being erased. Why are we so afraid of sex differences? Isn’t more damage done when we negate real, honest, lived experiences?
Libby Emmons is a playwright living in Brooklyn, New York. She has written for The Federalist, Quillette, and Arc Digital, among other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @li88yinc.