How sexist HK adverts perpetuate gender stereotypes

September 4, 2017
Industry News
Content Provided By:


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Kylie Knott
kylie.knott@scmp.com

Lack of laws against sexist or gender specific advertising means city is full of such ads, from those showing reclining women in domestic situations, to active men in powerful roles and skinny girls promoting weight loss

The advertising industry is known to regularly dip its toes in hot water, especially when it’s guilty of overtly sexualised adverts. But another damaging facet of the industry, albeit a more subtle one, is what’s known as “gender advertising” – adverts that depict stereotypical gender roles, whether it’s immaculately dressed woman in heels and lipstick taking food from an oven, to sports brands showing action men in strong and fit poses.

Lisa Moore, senior research and advocacy manager at Hong Kong-based non-profit The Women’s Foundation, says the city is overloaded with examples of such advertising.

“Whether on billboards, buses, in print or on television, gender stereotyping in advertising is still quite prevalent in Hong Kong,” says Moore. “From financial loan commercials to ads for household products, women are often depicted in domestic roles.”

Moore says adverts also promote unrealistic ideas of female beauty. “Thirty per cent of the pages in our entertainment magazines are slimming ads directed at women, underscoring the pressure on them to conform to often unrealistic ideals,” she says, referring to a recent study carried out by the foundation.

The late Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman found men in adverts were mostly portrayed as alert and conscious of their surroundings, standing strong and upright, serious and physically active. This is in contrast to women, who often appear seductive and vulnerable, touching themselves or caressing an object, often lying on the floor or sitting on a bed or chair, their eyes closed, a slightly confused look on their faces.

Goffman’s groundbreaking analysis of advertising was done in 1979. So have we made progress?

Not according to the 2009 documentary The Codes of Gender, by media scholar Sut Jhally, who drew parallels with Goffman’s work and the modern advertising landscape.

And how about in 2017? Has the advertising industry evolved? Moore says while some parts of the advertising and media industry are tackling these stereotypes in a bid to change public perception, Hong Kong lags behind.

“More than other developed economies, the representation of gender-specific professions like secretaries and nurses being depicted by women is still quite prevalent in Hong Kong, with men primarily featured in roles of authority, and male voices more commonly used for commentaries and voice overs.”

Moore says the reason for this is that in Hong Kong there is no explicit regulation of sexism or gender stereotyping in advertising. Continue Reading
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