MOTHERHOOD is an offensive gender stereotype. At least that’s the verdict of the gender police at the Advertising Standards Authority.
This week it feverishly banned two ads it ruled “harmful” and guilty of “serious widespread offence”, under new rules to reduce gender stereotyping.
How bad were these ads I wondered excitedly Googling, preparing to be furious, too. Did they feature women in lingerie chained to the kitchen sink? Or a businessman smacking his secretary on the bottom as she re-orders his filing cabinet?
Er, no. Instead the appalling ad in question featured two male astronauts and . . . a woman sitting by a pram. Shock, horror!
The general public found the Volkswagen advert so offensive that three people complained. Which suggests just how busy the ASA is these days.
Meanwhile the ASA, now on a roll, busily set about banning a second ad — a funny Philadelphia sketch featuring two dads who, distracted by soft-cheese snacks, leave their babies on a restaurant conveyor belt.
A bit like a cheese-centric version of that time the then prime minister David Cameron left his daughter down the pub.
Never mind, Mondelez, which owns the Philadelphia brand, pleaded it had deliberately featured a pair of fathers to avoid the stereotype that mums do all the childcare.
The ASA still threw the book at the firm pulling its ad off-air. The number of complaints for this outrage? Er, that’ll be just the one. Just so we’re clear, it is now prohibited to show a dad messing up or suggest that a woman might like having children.
These two pants-on-head-stupid verdicts are just the first decisions by the ASA since the new rules came into effect this June banning ads with “harmful gender stereotypes”, whatever that means. As you can see — it’s vital work.
Sometimes gendered jokes are just stupid fun Sisters must be shown “doing it for themselves”, and men presumably doing what they are told. Anything else is forbidden.
JUST STUPID FUN
Get ready for Gillette ads where women shave their thick beards. Beer ads where women gulp pints between heckling men from their scaffolding jobs. And ads only permitted to feature mothers who hate looking after their children. Right on!
Or ads featuring boys off to get measured for their M&S bras. Or roller-skating blokes promoting Tampax.
Obviously, I’m glad we live in an era where we’re far beyond the 1960s clichés Don Draper from Mad Men peddled — of mums pushing mops and getting dishes Fairy clean and men dominating DIY shops — but the truth is some experiences are still gender specific.
And some situations are funny for that very reason. It’s why men laugh when comedian Michael McIntyre tells jokes about “man drawers” filled with coins from foreign currencies no longer in circulation, keys from homes he doesn’t live in any more and radiator bleeding keys.
And why they also laugh at Catherine Bohart’s joke — named one of the funniest one-liners at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe — that lesbian sex is like cricket: “It goes on forever and there’s a lot of men watching it at home, alone, on the internet”.
It’s why women laugh hard in recognition at BBC’s Fleabag and its creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s observation about how women panic over bad haircuts. Or like to pretend they’re out looking hot and happen to be wearing suspenders (rather than at home alone) when boys booty call.
It’s also why women are moved by Waller-Bridge’s female characters’ monologues about women’s pain. We laugh at some jokes precisely because they reveal how stupid and fragile gender stereotypes are.
We laugh out of empathy or tragedy, things haven’t changed. Which is why I tell jokes about how my boyfriend’s so bad at cooking his roast chicken gave me food poisoning. And he jokes my driving is so awful that when I drive a car with motion sensors it sounds like we’re in a minimal techno rave.
Sometimes gendered jokes are just stupid fun — which is why everyone loves a Yo Momma gag. Now the ASA has banned us from laughing at supposedly “sexist” ads will all gendered humour have to go?
Will stand-ups no longer be allowed to joke about their relationships and the funny things women and men do? This will surely wipe out half of the Edinburgh Fringe festival’s shows.
Will American comic Jerry Seinfeld — so offensive he managed to sell out four shows in London last month for more than £100 a head — be allowed to tell the husband and wife gags that brought the house down each night?
Partly, what’s frustrating about this PC obsession with sexism is that it blinds us to other more problematic stereotypes — as we saw when Green MP Caroline Lucas idiotically proposed an all-female “cabinet of national unity” without noticing it was all-white.
Mostly I worry this arbitrary clampdown on sexism represents a profoundly problematic new censorship. While I’m sure the ASA is well-intentioned, the fact is it has turned an advertising watchdog into a propaganda machine, peddling its own stereotypes.
After all, who will decide what is acceptable for us to watch? Stereotypes, like offence, can’t be objectively measured.
That one complaint can get an advert banned proves the ASA isn’t driven by “widespread offence” but that, as usual, we will be controlled by the voices shouting loudest.