Is sexism against men ethically permissible?

Sexist advertising

The Styrian Anti-Discrimination Agency would like to take a stand on the subject of sexist advertising and recommend the implementation of a nationwide legal regulation for dealing with sexist advertising.

According to the Code of Ethics of the Austrian Advertising Council, sexist advertising is a matter of course1 before when

  • Women or men are portrayed in a derogatory way;
  • gender equality is called into question;
  • Submission or exploitation is portrayed or given to understand that violence or dominance behavior is tolerable;
  • the person is presented as an eye-catcher in a purely sexualized function; in particular, no pictorial representations of naked female or male bodies without a direct contextual connection to the advertised product may be used.
  • there is a degrading depiction of sexuality or the person is reduced to their sexuality;
  • People are devalued who do not correspond to the prevailing ideas about belonging to a gender (e.g. intersex people, transgender people).

In addition, according to the Code of Ethics, advertising for sexual services - insofar as it is legally permissible - must not violate the dignity of people, in particular sex service providers, consumers or passers-by. The body and especially the female or male sexuality must not be shown inappropriately. Particular attention must be paid to the placement and the respective environment of the advertising subject.

Finally, advertising may not show, approve, promote or glorify incitement to hatred, in particular due to the categories mentioned under “ethics and morals”. In particular, advertising must not contain any material that, if assessed in the respective context, approves, promotes or glorifies violence against women or depicts girls and boys in a sexualized manner.

Statutory Regulations

There are currently no legal regulations that explicitly prohibit sexist advertising in Austria. The Equal Treatment Act in Section 30 (3) that the content of media and advertising is subject to the protective provisions on equal treatment in legal relationships "including their initiation and justification and for the use or assertion of services outside of a legal relationship for access to and the supply of goods and Services that are available to the public, including living space, provided that this falls within the direct regulatory competence of the federal government ”is excluded.2

According to the explanations of the government bill for the amendment of the Equal Treatment Act3 A separate definition of the scope of media and advertising for the attribute of ethnic affiliation on the one hand and the attribute of gender on the other hand is required in § 30 GlBG, as an exception for the attribute of ethnic affiliation in the said area of ​​application is not permitted due to the text of the anti-racism directive. In this regard, it can be stated that the considerations of the Austrian legislation on the Equal Treatment Act wanted to exclude both the attribute of gender and the attribute of ethnic origin from the scope of media and advertising, but that European legal requirements regulate the attribute of ethnic affiliation more strongly than the attribute of gender. Nevertheless, many experts, such as the Association of Austrian Lawyers, point to Austria's obligation with regard to CEDAW Art 5. and advocate the inclusion of the areas of media and advertising4. The Association of Austrian Lawyers is calling for an amendment to the GlBG, which not only complies with the minimum requirements of Directive 113/2004 / EC, but also includes the areas of media and advertising in order to meet the international obligation.

In the Pornography Act §1 (PornG) the "production and distribution of lewd writings, images, moving pictures or other lewd objects with intent to gain profit" is regulated5. With regard to sexist advertising, these provisions can only apply to those advertisements that are regarded as "lewd". The judicature defines lewd as "what is perceived as unbearable by everyone (sic!) Who is socially integrated"6.

However, not only pornographic representations, which the majority perceive as disturbing, but also sexualized representations and the reproduction of gender clichés and role models can be sexist. It should also be noted that the context of fornication and sexism is different.

In addition to the Pornography Act, the ORF Act can apply to sexist advertising. According to this law, commercial communications must in no way violate human dignity or contain discrimination (including on the basis of gender)7. In addition, in accordance with the prohibition of gender-discriminatory “audiovisual communication” in the Federal Act on Audiovisual Media Services (AMD Act), it is anchored that these “must and do not respect the human dignity and fundamental rights of others with regard to their presentation and content to provoke hatred on the basis of race [sic!], gender, religion, disability and nationality "8.

Despite these individual provisions mentioned, sexist advertising is an essential part of the media and the advertising landscape. Therefore, the aforementioned provisions cannot be recognized as sufficient measures against sexist advertising.9 The extension of the protective provisions of the GlBG against discrimination to include media and advertising is seen as a suitable measure against sexist advertising.

International and European law level

The CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women), which was ratified in Austria in 1982, obliges the contracting states to prevent all forms of discrimination. According to Article 5, States parties must take all appropriate measures to eliminate stereotypical gender roles10. Advertising is clearly covered by this obligation.

Numerous directives are anchored in European law, which legally oblige the contracting states to prohibit discrimination based on sex in different areas of life and to take appropriate measures. With regard to sexist advertising, the EU directive on audiovisual media services is relevant, according to which the member states must ensure by appropriate means that audiovisual media services "may not incite hatred on the basis of race [sic!] And gender"11.

In July 2013 the Council of the European Union passed a resolution on “Advancing Women ’s Roles as Decision-makers in the Media”. According to this, the Member States are called upon to implement specific measures for gender equality in the media sector at all levels12.

On the basis of these European legal requirements, some other EU countries have already implemented a legal ban on sexist advertising. In Norway and Denmark, for example, advertising with the body of a model is forbidden if it is not related to the product being advertised13.

The problem of sexist advertising

Sexist advertising is the representation of gender-related prejudices and behaviors that socially devalue one group of people (women, men, transgender people) compared to another14. In advertising, ideas about gender roles are formed and an image of normality is created that clearly discriminates and excludes certain groups of people. In advertising, it is women who, in contrast to men, are increasingly objectified and used to satisfy male heterosexuality. Women are often portrayed as “decoration”, as sexually available, as more responsible for the household or as less technically gifted. This goes hand in hand with attributions of women as “less competent”, “stupid” or “easy to get”. In addition, advertisements proclaim normative heterosexuality, which leads to the consolidation of socially disadvantageous structures for homosexual people and transgender people.

Different problem areas arise from gender-discriminatory advertising15which must be countered by legal regulation.

  • Gender-discriminatory advertising has an impact on the image we have of ourselves.
  • Gender-discriminatory advertising has an impact on how we see others and how we treat others.
  • Gender-discriminatory advertising has an impact on physical self-perception and self-esteem.

Examples of sexist advertising

The following examples were given by the Austrian Advertising Council16 classified as sexist:

A quatrain on a postcard demands: “Women in power” - “Power: clean. Power: food. Makes me happy."

A waste management company displays the following advertising on one of its emergency vehicles: "PARK WASTER THAN WOMEN, BUT CLEANS BETTER".

The advertisement for a printing company shows a very slim woman in a tight bikini and high-heeled shoes from behind. At the top of the picture is touted as an achievement: "We print sharply!"

Recommendation on the legal sanctioning of sexist advertising

Gender inequalities are omnipresent and have a long tradition. The everyday reproduction of gender roles and gender images complicates the process of gender equality. In this sense, sexist advertising helps to maintain discriminatory social structures (especially for women, homosexuals, transgender people). In the following, a ban on sexist advertising does not mean restricting freedom of speech, but rather provides a framework for advertising and marketing that protects against gender discrimination. For these reasons, the Styrian Anti-Discrimination Agency advocates a legal regulation with appropriate sanctions and controls, as is also provided for racist advertising, which offers (preventive) protection and legal certainty. The Styrian Anti-Discrimination Agency regards the extension of the scope of the third part of the Equal Treatment Act to include advertising and the media as a suitable measure against sexist advertising.
1 See Austrian Advertising Council “Society for Self-Control of the Advertising Industry”: Code of Ethics for the Advertising Industry 2012, p.11.
2 §30 GlBG, Paragraph 3
3 RV 938 BlgNR XXIV.GP, page 9
4 Opinion 20 / SN-179 / ME XXIV.GP, p.16
5 § 1 Pornography Act
6 OGH 06/11/1975, 9 Os 65/74 = RZ 1975/73
7 See Section 10 of the Federal Act on Austrian Broadcasting
8 Section 30 of the Federal Act on Audiovisual Media Services
9 See watchgroup against sexist advertising. Online: [08/22/2016]
10 See Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women New York, December 18, 1979, Art 5.
11 RL 2010/13 / EU, Art. 6
12 See resolution of the European Parliament of 3 September 2008 on the impact of marketing and advertising on equality between women and men
13 See Public International Law and Policy Group: Legal Frameworks regarding sexism in advertising: Coparision of national systems. 2015: p. 2
14 See watchgroup. Online: [08/22/2016]
15 Compare Pinkstinks: Diversity is more beautiful 2015. Online: [August 16, 2016]
16 See the opinion of the Anti-Sexism Advisory Board. Online: [August 16, 2016]
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