Sexism in Advertising – new report from RAP

In January 2021, Résistance à l’Agression Publicitaire (RAP), a French non-profit organisation, published a report entitled “Le Sexisme dans la publicité française. Rapport de l’observatoire de la publicité sexiste. 2019-2020”.

This report highlights current sexism in advertising: stereotypes and gender injunctions conveyed by advertisement on a daily basis. At a time when ‘#MeToo’ has reached the advertising world and following the recent impact of the ‘#BalanceTonAgency’ hashtag, the RAP report shows the inefficiency of professional self-regulation in the advertising sector and offers suggestions for a real control in advertising.

From the 25 th March 2019 to the 25 th March 2020, the RAP published an online form, entitled “Sexist Advertising Observatory”, allowing anyone who saw a sexist advert to report it and explain why it could be considered as such.

The results speak for themselves: out of 165 contributions collected from 20 French cities throughout the year, 81% target the female
gender. The aesthetics and appearance industries account for more than half of these adverts deemed sexist. There are various injunctions observed when it comes to women: beauty, youth, thinness, dedication to care and domestic work, submission to male gaze and desire, etc.

The main elements are the excessive sexualisation of the female body and the objectification of women, with extreme consequences on social norms and women’s health such as discriminations, eating disorder, low self-esteem, trivialisation of rape culture, etc. The report also provides historical and legal analysis of sexism in advertisement. Looking back at the past years shows that sexist advertising has changed little, if at all, and has even increased: female body distortion, female body sexualisation, purplewashing and
representations of women as ‘weak and stupid’ creatures remain.

Although sexism is officially forbidden by French advertising institutions as it is a “degrading way of representing people”, it persists nonetheless. The legal analysis shows that the current legislation is inadequate. Advertising regulation is nowadays done by the advertising industry itself.

Examples from the report, as well as recent complaints, show that the ARPP, professional advertising self-regulation body, is ineffective: at best, it condemns an advertising campaign with a “negative opinion” published on its website long after the end of the campaign; at worst, it does nothing at all. Adfree Cities report into the UK self-regulation boday the Advertising Standards Authority, came to similar conclusions.

The report also makes concrete proposals to end sexism in advertising:

  • Put an end to advertising self-regulation through the creation of a truly independent regulatory body with sanctioning powers.
  • Legally forbid sexism in advertising.
  • Stop using bodies (whole bodies or body parts, human or humanoid bodies) in advertising.

“At a time when certain people maintain that sexism in advertising is past history, this report shows that it is an ongoing problem. In the field of gender, as in that of ecology, it is urgent to set limits and regulate advertising discourse”.

Jeanne Guien, researcher and spokeswoman for RAP

Download the report in French:

Contacts: Jeanne Guien, spokeswoman for RAP: jeanne.guien[at],
Khaled Gaiji, press agent for RAP: khaled.gaiji[at]

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