Sweden has decided not to ban sexist advertising, saying it would risk undermining the country's cherished right to freedom of speech.
But the decision puts the country at odds with its Nordic neighbours. Norway and Denmark have strict limits on the use of such images for commercial gain.
In Norway, sexist advertising has been banned since 2003. The ban forms part of a much broader package of legal limits on advertising, protecting the depiction of religion, sexuality, race and gender.
Basically, if something is offensive or it makes the viewer feel uncomfortable when they look at it, it shouldn't be done , explained Sol Olving, head of Norway's Kreativt Forum, an association of the country's top advertising agencies: Naked
people are wonderful, of course, but they have to be relevant to the product. You could have a naked person advertising shower gel or a cream, but not a woman in a bikini draped across a car."
Norwegian firms that refuse to remove or alter offensive adverts after having a complaint upheld face a hefty fine of 500,000 Norwegian kroner (£49,000; 62,500 euros).
Both Norway and Denmark are keen to emphasise that their advertising limits do not prevent freedom of speech, stifle creativity or mean that there is never a beautiful naked human form on display.
Denmark's advertising ombudsman Henrik Oe says many advertisers are becoming increasingly creative, using humour to stretch the boundaries and appeal to Danish consumers. He says he receives only around 10 complaints about sexist advertising each year
and that firms normally remove the offending images quickly.
Sweden, however, despite commissioning a special government rapporteur to look into the matter, is not following the legal professor's advice that freedom of speech does not extend to commercial messages and limits are needed.
This law would be against freedom of speech, which is protected by the constitution , said Malin Engstedt, spokesperson for Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni: The minister is not convinced that this law would improve things.
The Swedish Consumers Association (Sveriges Konsumentråd) has reacted angrily to one of the ice pops in GB's new line. 'Girlie', a star-shaped, pink ice-cream with glitter make-up stored inside the stick, is entirely inappropriate, according to the
Britain is outraged at dastardly foreign attempts to banish busty beauties from the nation's billboards. The root of their anger was
Swedish politicians who, having failed to get sexist ads banned on the home front, scored a win in Brussels.
The Daily Mail, an organ never to miss an opportunity for a bit of Euro-bashing, was justifiably breathless with indignation after a committee of Euro-MPs demanded that EU countries put a stop to any ads that reinforce gender stereotypes.
The person behind this nutter plan is none other than Eva-Britt Svensson, a Swedish Left Party MEP and vice chairperson of the European Parliament's women's rights committee.
The author of the report seems to have swallowed an undergraduate gender studies textbook: Gender stereotyping in advertising straitjackets women, men, girls and boys by restricting individuals to predetermined and artificial roles that are
often degrading, humiliating and dumbed down for both sexes.
So it's 'Goobye Boys' from Wonderbra, but also from yummy Diet Coke builders, Calvin Klein-clad footballers and the rest.
Actually, the chances of any country being forced to ban anything is close to nil (no law has been passed – the European Parliament's women's rights committee has just recommended a course of action that governments are free to ignore, as they no
If you've been in Sweden for the past few years, the proposal had a familiar ring. The Swedish Council against Sexual Discrimination in Advertising (ERK) has long waged a battle against ads depicting scantily-clad models.
ERK's rulings have led to accusations that it was trying to act as the thought police. They have also raised a number of questions: is sexy advertising always sexist? Why should advertisers be expected to be more politically correct than
the consumers they target? Whatever happened to free speech? And besides, surely the whole business should be self-regulating: consumers won't buy products if the ads are offensive?
The controversial nature of ERK's work also has the self-defeating side-effect that the ads it censures are guaranteed lots of free publicity in the tabloids.
ERK's rulings don't have the force of law, but earlier this year an official committee proposed going one step further and banning all material with a commercial aim that could be construed as offensive to women or men.
Equality minister Nyamko Sabuni refused to adopt the report's findings, saying: I don't want to infringe on fundamental human freedoms and rights for a law the efficacy of which I question. This is not the way to win the fight for gender
equity. Defeated on home soil, it looks like Svensson is seeing whether the battle can be won elsewhere. She probably shouldn't hold her breath – in the UK, at least, even the left-wing papers are subjecting the idea to ridicule.
Svensson's poorly-presented arguments might leave an open goal for her opponents, but the failure to pass a similar law in Stockholm must beg the question: if rules like this haven't worked in politically correct Sweden, how on earth could they be
made to work elsewhere?
US power tool maker Black & Decker has received a hammering from a Swedish advertising censor for an advert described as degrading to women.
The Swedish business sector's Ethical Council against Gender Discriminatory Advertising (ERK) slammed an advert that promised beauty treatments for the wives of men who bought its products.
The Black & Decker ad earlier this year promised customers a pleased wife guarantee, offering beauty treatments worth 350 kronor ($43 dollars) to the wives of men who bought spent more than 1,500 kronor on its tools.
Through this text, the council finds that (the company) conveyed an outdated view of gender roles in which women are expected to be placated with beauty treatments while men buy tools, ERK said in its ruling: This is degrading for both
women and men. The ad is thereby gender discriminatory.
ERK, which is made up of representatives of Sweden's main advertising companies, has no power to impose sanctions on companies it finds guilty of discrimination.
US-based toy retailer Toys 'R' Us has been reprimanded for gender discrimination following a complaint filed by a group of Swedish
sixth graders about the store's 2008 Christmas catalogue.
Last winter, a sixth grade class at Gustavslund school in south central Sweden reported Toys 'R' Us to the Reklamombudsmannen (Ro), a self-regulatory agency which polices marketing and advertising communications in Sweden to ensure they are in
line with guidelines set out by the International Chamber of Commerce.
According to the youngsters, the Toys 'R' Us Christmas catalogue featured outdated gender roles because boys and girls were shown playing with different types of toys, whereby the boys were portrayed as active and the girls as passive ,
according to a statement from Ro.
13-year-old Hannes Psajd explained that he and his twin sister had always shared the same toys and that he was concerned about the message sent by the Toys 'R' Us publication: Small girls in princess stuff…and here are boys dressed as super
heroes. It's obvious that you get affected by this .
Upon reviewing the case, the Reklamombudsmannen agreed with the sixth-graders complaint, and have issued a public reprimand of the toy retailer.
According to the Ro's advisory committee the Toys 'R' Us catalogue discriminates based on gender and counteracts positive social behaviour, lifestyles, and attitudes . Specifically, the committee found that the catalogue feature boys playing in action filled environments
while girls are shown sitting or standing in passive poses .
Taken together, the catalogue portrays children's games and choice of toys in a narrow-minded way, and this exclusion of boys and girls from different types of toys is, in itself, degrading to both genders, Ro said in a statement.
The public reprimand has no accompanying sanctions for Toys 'R' Us.
Sweden's advertising ombudsman upheld a complaint against the advertisement, promoting a television operator called Boxer, in which a photo shop character called Robert stretches out on a sheepskin rug wearing only a pair of straining, white boxer
Even if the intention was to present a humorous link between the man and product, the man is presented, through his posture and lack of clothing, as a mere sex object in a way that could be deemed offensive to men in general, the ombudsman's
office claimed in a statement.
It added that Robert's legs, chest, arms and abdomen are very muscular, and the outline of his genitalia is visible through his underpants .
A complainer argued that the focus on the organ and its size had nothing to do with the product, and even if that was the case, it is no way to portray either a man or a woman . It was also claimed that Robert's physical shape could place pressure
on impressionable men who aspire to have the same physique.
The advertisement sparked lively debate on internet comments sites, with many men stating they found it harmless and inoffensive, and that the ombudsman should get a life .
An editorial in Aftonbladet, a leading Swedish newspaper, said that the ombudsman had to act on equality grounds because it would have upheld a complaint if Boxer had used a female image.
Stockholm council is set to ban sexy outdoor advertising. Daniel Hellden, one of Stockholm's deputy mayors and a
long-serving Green Party activist with a political and personal mission to:
Make sure women aren't made to feel uncomfortable by explicit or gender stereotyped advertising in public spaces. I know my daughters, they don't like it. They feel bad. We should not as a city be part of this sort of advertising. I have a
responsibility to the citizens of Stockholm to ban this.
Hellden notes that record immigration to the Swedish capital has fuelled a wider awareness of stereotyping and a need to avoid racist undertones in public spaces.
His efforts to stamp out discriminatory billboards, digital displays or information boards will come to a head later this month, when the City Council is expected to approve a ban on racist and sexist advertisements.
The censorship rules about what constitutes a sexist or racist advertisements will follow those set out by the country's very politically correct nationwide advertising censor, Reklamombudsmannen (RO). But whereas RO cannot issue sanctions to
companies in breach of the guidelines, Stockholm's council will be able to order them to take down offensive billboards within 24 hours.
Inevitably the move has supporters and critics. The Swedish Women's Lobby recently labelled Sweden the worst in the Nordics when it comes to gender images, due to being the only country in the region lacking legislation against sexism and
stereotyping in advertising.
But Stockholm's plans to try and step up efforts against discrimination have come under fire from The Association of Swedish Advertisers, which represents agencies and marketing professionals. Its chief executive, Anders Ericson, argues that
despite complaints from what he describes as a really strong group of feminists, Sweden is already doing a really terrific job in self-regulation. He fears a ban will increase red tape and curb freedom of expression.