Report of Joint Committee on Women's Rights — Portrayal of Women in the Media: Motion.

Thursday, 9 October 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 114 No. 4

First Page Previous Page Page of 8 Next Page Last Page

Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  I move:

That Seanad Éireann takes note of the Third Report of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights: Portrayal of Women in the Media.

The Joint Committee on Women's Rights, in examining the subjects which it might take up for examination in a report to the Houses of the Oireachtas, has indeed found a wide variety of subjects. This third report deals with an area which some people might at first glance not think to be a particularly important one. However, the committee did take the view that it is an essential right of any group — it is certainly an essential right of a group as large as the women of this State — not to be misrepresented seriously and continuously in public in the manner in which they were portrayed by advertisements.

The report that the Seanad is discussing today is not just an amalgam of the particular views of the members of the committee, the views that they had originally, the prejudices with which they took up this subject and is not concerned with the preceding views whether prejudiced or otherwise. It is based not only on a long series of discussions within the committee but was also based on evidence taken from a number of groups. The committee sat six times in public in order to receive evidence. It is interesting, in view of the fact that the committees and the Oireachtas are often criticised in regard to application to their work that, in fact, a good deal of the hearing of that evidence took part during the summer when the Houses of the Oireachtas were not in session.

[350] Apart from that, the report was based on research that was directly commissioned by the committee, a directly commissioned research on the question of what was the attitude of women in Ireland to the manner in which they were portrayed. Therefore, when the committee came to make its recommendations it was not basing itself either on its previous notions or merely on what had been said by particularly interested groups but it had gone to the trouble — and indeed put the State to the expense — of having definitive research on this topic.

What is the primary conclusion of this evidence, of the deliberations of the committee? The conclusion is that sexism exists in advertising in Ireland to a large degree and that the existence of sexism in advertising has an effect not only on women but on men and children.

It might be thought that the latter remark is an exaggeration, that the way in which women are portrayed in advertising would have an effect on children. I have noticed, and I am sure many others have noticed, the fascination that advertisements have for young children. The first contact of a child with television is through advertisements. It may be that their span of attention is such that they like the quick change of advertisements, but the child who is placed in front of a television set while the mother or father or whoever is looking after the child is busy, that child's favourite programmes are advertisements and not features. Therefore, the first impression a child receives through the medium of television is what that child receives from advertisements.

The very first report of the Committee on Women's Rights which dealt with education stressed the primary importance of education in trying to eliminate the stereotypes that exist in Irish society in regard to the relative roles of men and women. We can all be happy that steps have been taken in regard to the removal of such stereotyping from the text books children use when they go to school. The Department of Education have issued regulations endeavouring to ensure that [351] when a child starts to learn to read, the book from which it first learns to read is free of this false stereotyping which has come to use from past phases of society. On the question of the fascination advertisements have for very young children we have a pre-reading stage at which the false stereotypes of society can be implanted in the child at a time when the mind is such that impressions can be deep and lasting and difficult to eradicate.

What do I mean by sexism in advertising in the media? The committee has been clear on this point. Pages 9 and 10 of the report set out a table which indicates what the proper criteria should be by which the portrayal of women in various media should be judged. It is not possible for me to read into the record the fullness of table 1 which appears on pages 9 and 10 but I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. There are two main portrayals which are false. Women are portrayed on the one hand as having only the two characteristics of glamour and passivity or, on the other hand, dependence and lack of intelligence. Both of these images are an infringement of the rights of the women of this country not to be misrepresented in this way. It has often been said that there has been a tendency, in endeavouring to secure the rights of women, to under-value the role of the women who chooses to make her career as the home maker. There is no greater insult to the woman who makes her career as a home maker than the manner in which she is portrayed in the advertising media and particularly in television advertisements.

Why is it that at this stage of Irish society we still have this condition existing where women are represented in this way which may in some aspects have been true of earlier generations but is not true today? Some of it may be deliberate exploitation. But it seems that much more is due to a lack of awareness on the part of the advertising industry and on the part of the media of what is involved in this case. It is the duty of those of us in public life to make the various people [352] in the media aware of the reality of the situation. It is probable that most people in the advertising industry feel that little harm is being done, that there is very little resentment on the part of the women who are so portrayed. The research carried out for the Joint Committee on Women's Rights indicated that this was not the case. I would refer to table 9 on page 26 of the report. We find in the survey carried out by a professional social worker that, with regard to the prime first question, whether advertisements should reflect the way women's lives really are, 91 per cent of women either agree or strongly agree that this should be so. It may well be. The advertising agencies delude themselves that they are showing women as they really are. If we go on to the second question which asked for comment on the statement advocating change on the basis that women should be shown in a variety of roles, not just as wives and mothers, 97 per cent of women who were the subject of this survey agreed or strongly agreed that a change was needed, three per cent did not know and nobody disagreed with the need for change.

In regard to the stereotype of the glamorous type of woman who is the subject of a number of advertisements, we had a total of 72 per cent of women of the opinion that women's bodies should not be used to advertise products, 11 per cent did not know and only 17 per cent disagreed with the need for change.

The final statement very substantially involving change which was the subject of this survey, was put in the words: “I would like to see stronger legal control of the quality advertisements”. In this 35 per cent of women strongly agreed, 51 per cent agreed, giving a total of 86 per cent agreeing, 8 per cent were “don't knows” and only 5 per cent disagreed. In regard to the effect of what happens at the moment in the portrayal of women in the media, only 5 per cent of women disagree with the idea that there should be stronger legal controls. It seems that this indicates a prima facie case for stronger legal control of the portrayal of women in the media and that, indeed, is [353] the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights. This puts a very strong onus on legislators in this House and in another place to take action in this regard.

It is the contention of the advertising industry that there is a self regulating system which is adequate. The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland have produced a code. They have indicated in evidence to the Joint Committee on Women's Rights that they feel that this code is adequate in content and that the procedures under the code are also adequate in regard to this problem. Therefore, it is necessary for me to say why I believe the advertising industry are deluding themselves in this and that it cannot be sustained either that the code is adequate or, even if it is adequate, that the procedures are being properly used.

If we look at the records of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland themselves we look at their statistics of the number of cases which are examined in regard to the question of complaint. In the case of complaints in regard to the sexist nature of advertisements, 29 per cent of these are upheld, compared with the 41 per cent upheld in other cases, so immediately there seems to be what a statistician would recognise as a significant difference which should be further investigated. If we look at the structure and the procedures of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland, we begin to see why such a difference should occur. At first glace it seems to be set up in such a way that there is an adequate representation of the consumer interest, because there is a board for the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland which consists of ten members, five of whom represent industry and five represent the consumer. There is also a committee of management. The committee of management have four representatives of the advertisers, four representatives of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners and four representatives of the media. In other words, while the board contain representation of consumers, the committee of management consists only of those [354] with a financial interest in the advertising industry. Let us ask ourselves who it was who upheld only 29 per cent of complaints about sexism in advertising. Was it the board, which had a broad consumer representation? No, it was the committee of management. It is the industry only judging itself in this particular regard. That does not necessarily say, of course, that it is reaching a wrong conclusion, but if we read carefully the code of the advertising industry and if we examine the evidence given on behalf of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland, which was the evidence given to the committee on 23 October, we find, indeed, that they appear to be misdirecting itself. We have here in their code something which might appear to cover the situation and I am quoting directly from paragraph 4.8.6 on page 14 of the Code of Advertising Standards for Ireland. I will arrange to have a copy of this placed in the Library if it is not already there. I quote: “No advertisement should explicitly or by implication infringe the principle of the social, economic and cultural equality of the sexes”.

It can be said that the right of the women of Ireland not to be misrepresented in terms of either of the false stereotypes of which I have already complained is adequately covered in this regard, but if you read the evidence which was given on behalf of the advertising authority, which revealed the manner in which they approached this, you will find that they appear to be judging complaints in regard to sexism in advertising, not under that part of the code, but under the general part of the code, which is given on page 7. I quote from general rule 2:

Advertisments should contain nothing which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave or widespread offence.

When the Members of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights closely questioned the representative of the Advertising Standards Authority for [355] Ireland in this regard, he defended the decisions on the grounds that widespread offence was not given by the advertisements complained of. That is not the point. Sexism in advertising and indecency in advertising are two quite different things.

If I am right in thinking that the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland are judging complaints about sexism on the basis that they are not offensive to a majority of people on the general grounds of decency, then they are misdirecting themselves in regard to their code. It is this reason that moved me, and I am quite sure moved other Members of the committee, to the recommendation that we need legal statutory control of advertising in order to remedy this situation. I suggest that the code is deficient, even if it were operated properly under section 4 rather than section 1, and I think the procedure is also deficient.

The committee considered not only the question of the advertising industry itself, that is the people who are endeavouring to place advertisements in the media but also the question of the reception of these advertisements by the media. What was the attitude of the representatives of the media in this regard? In regard to radio and television, RTE have a Copy Clearance Committee whose role is discussed on page 35 of the report. This appears to be the proper procedure of self-control, but what do we find when we look at this RTE Copy Clearance Committee? In spite of the fact that in 1979 RTE had an internal working party to examine the position of women in Irish broadcasting, including the portrayal of women in advertising, we found that, until very recently, until the Committee on Women's Rights were actually dealing with this problem, on this Copy Clearance Committee there was not one woman. Again we find a complete bias in regard to the pre-existing practices. There are a number of women at middle management level in RTE and in the advertising industry because this is a profession in which women have taken quite an active part in recent years.

[356] If we look at the print medium, what is the position? I am happy to say that a number of editors responded to the invitation of the committee. They came and discussed the problem of the portrayal of women in the media. In this regard I should like to pay tribute to the proprietors and the editor of The Sunday Tribune for the arrangements in that newspaper. This newspaper is outstanding in regard to the arrangement they make for their women employees and in their attitude towards the problem we are discussing. This is quite clear from the evidence that was given to us. The editor was generous enough to say that because his newspaper had no pre-existing tradition, because it was a late foundation, and because of the manner in which it had been launched, that it was easier for The Sunday Tribune to act in this way. Nevertheless I think it is right that this tribute should be paid.

In the evidence given by the Advertising Authority of Ireland they tell us that there is one Irish newspaper which is not a member of that authority. The Sunday Tribune. The one newspaper that seems to have got the things right, which seems to be treating women as they should be treated, apparently will have nothing to do with this body which says it is adequate to act in a self-regulating capacity and that there is no need for further legal statutory control.

One editor did not wish to appear before the committee, the editor of The Sunday World. He wrote to us in terms that we thought reflected, quite clearly, what was wrong in regard to certain areas of the media and we printed his reply as an annex. I quote one sentence:

Your committee's view seems to suggest that there is no difference between men and women.

He continues with semi-fantasies about girls in bikinis on tractors and men in y-fronts on tractors. It is not so much the fact that a person does not appear before the committee that concerns me, but that anyone should be so unintelligent, and at the same time in charge of a newspaper, as to think that the Joint Committee on [357] Women's Rights saw no difference between men and women. We see no difference between their rights. Our work in that committee room is going to continue so that we can make our contribution to seeing that women are not underprivileged in this country, but to say that we can detect no difference in the profile of a man and a woman is saddening.

The committee had two options when they had finally reviewed all this evidence. Should they recommend that the existing voluntary system be improved? The committee looked at the procedures in other countries and came to the conclusion that there were countries in which the voluntary system could work. Canada was one that many members of the committee felt offered a good model for voluntary regulation. There were other countries in which a statutory approach had been adopted. Here the committee came to the conclusion that for this country a statutory system somewhat along the lines of that in force in Norway might be suitable. Ultimately the committee had to choose which they should recommend. I had no hesitation. We have so much self delusion in this country, so much self delusion in the advertising industry and in parts of the media itself that the task of taking the existing voluntary method and trying to reform it so that it could make a real contribution towards the advancement of women's rights in this country is one that should not be attempted because Hercules is dead and nobody else would be able to do it.

As the committee have recommended, the situation in regard to the portrayal of women in the Irish media is far from satisfactory. Many women may have the good sense to shrug this off, and may attempt to ignore it but that is no reason for us in the Oireachtas ignoring the problem. As I said at the beginning, women have the right not to be misrepresented in this way and it is up to the Oireachtas to vindicate that right. In my opinion this can only be done by statutory control. I commend to all legislators and to all those interested to read this report, to read the [358] evidence. I am confident that having done so they will agree with me.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  Before I call on Senator Higgins to second the motion. I should like to welcome Deputy Richard Bruton to the House and, on behalf of the Members of the House, to congratulate him on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce.

Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  I should like to welcome him, too, and to say that he was a most able member of this committee. Our congratulations to him on his elevation to office is tinged with regret that we will no longer have his contributions on the Joint Committee on Women's Rights.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I should also like to welcome Deputy Bruton to the House. I had a specific note here to refer to him and to the great work he did on the committee. He was a very committed and a very dedicated member. He contributed at all times, he had very good attendance and he impresed me very greatly. He is a very dedicated and able young man. I wish him well and I know that in his chosen career he will bring to fruition some of the aspects that were covered in the meetings of the joint committee and particularly in the area which was so often referred to, the area of affirmative action. I congratulate Deputy Bruton and wish him well.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  I should like to join with the good wishes that have been suggested for the new Minister of State, Deputy Richard Bruton. He was indeed a very positive and regular contributor to the work of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights and I wish him well in his new role, however long it may be.

I take great pleasure in seconding this motion. I join with Senator Dooge in urging Members of both Houses to read the report in detail and to ponder on its implications. It is a very serious report. The nub of it is that a committee who were an all-party committee have agreed [359] that in the control of advertising and the exclusion of sexism from advertising we could not accept self regulation. That has many implications. As we began our proceedings gathering evidence we had before us those who would have been responsible for self regulation. It could have been gathered from the manner in which we heard the evidence and the evidence itself that we were going to bring in the report within a period of time. The attitude of the members is not unfairly represented by my stating they were of the opinion that when it came to print the report, even in that brief period of time no significant effort had been made to seriously extend or improve the standards or procedures that would have eliminated sexism from advertising by self regulation. Hence the unanimity of the recommendation. That point is very important.

The other point made by Senator Dooge in moving the report, that this report should be seen in the context of our first report on education, is an important one. When we discussed the first report of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights many people in the discussion here stressed the importance of the manner in which images of women pervade the overall cultural system. The media is very important in this. If one looks at the manner in which sexist attitudes arise in society, one can see that they are at their most obdurate when they are presented as natural. It is as if differences of gender are being translated into differences of social roles and the assumption that obvious differences of a biological kind between male and female are translated into what are suggested are obvious differences in sex roles in the workplace and in the home.

Senator Dooge referred to perhaps the most colourful page in the report, page 74, Appendix II containing the letter from the editor who did not appear before us. He gave not only a natural explanation of the practices of his newspapers but, as is usual in this country, he involved a God. Following the paragraph [360] quoted by Professor Dooge that Editor stated:

My own view is that there is a considerable difference between men and women. They look different for a start and I firmly believe that a tractor adorned by a girl in a bikini is infinitely more pleasing to the human eye than the same tractor adorned by a man in Y-fronts.

To me, that's the way God planned it.

In that you have it all. It is the classical justification or more accurately, the classical basis of prejudice and its rationalisation. Nature made it so: God made it so: or God and nature made it so. One can order them whichever way one likes. It is interesting that the views which are admittedly sexist, about tractors, Y-fronts and bikinis, can so easily move to the transcendental plane of God. It tells you something not only about sexism but about religion in our culture.

In relation to the question of socialisation, people would regard that the images gathered in the early years of life in the home are of crucial importance in establishing roles and images of male and female participation in society. Thus, children look at and see how their parents work and live. For example, little children will say early on, “Daddy is going to work, what are you going to do”, and so on. The atmosphere in the home and the family is very important and the committee, when preparing the education report, realised that.

Moving on from the settling of the home, the next major arena in which sexism is either created, sustained or amplified is within the educational system. Hence our discussion in report No. 1 on the content of curricula, the question of the participation of women in the management of schools and the structural control within the Department of Education. It is in this wider arena still, for the very early times when people read, listen to radio and watch television, that we have the most sustained reinforcing of images that have been gathered from the two previous sets of experiences. [361] Thus it was that the committee had to begin by looking at the overall portrayal of women in the media in terms of their participation as a workforce within the media, the question of the manner in which the media covered women's affairs and, of course, the representation of women in advertising.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Just before we adjourned I said that this report should be taken in the context of the overall work of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights, particularly in the context of their first report, that on education. That report addressed the whole question of socialisation of children into images of appropriate male and female roles and I mentioned that we had begun, if you like with various roles that are sustained by versions of what is maleness and what constitutes appropriate versions of the female within the family.

This is extended within education and that was why the committee were so happy with many of the recommendations made in the first report dealing with the elimination of stereotypes from text books. They were also pleased with the general ambience in schools. This does not mean that the issue in any sense has been rectified. In that regard many parents who talk to me about this issue and who know my interest in the issue of sexism as a part of the core of the value system of society often say how distressed they are that, even if they, against the total cultural tendency try to rear their children with non-sexist values, these values are quickly eroded in the school system.

In the first report we were talking about curriculum reform and the removal of stereotypes in textbooks. We equally realise that the total ambience of schools, the assumptions and attitudes of teachers and the presence of women and men in particular roles within, for example, the management of schools and so forth, was [362] something on which progress would take a longer while but we set down the basic demands in that regard. The maleness of the authoritarian control and structure of the school system is a very significant obstacle at present. The assumption in regard to education is that women belong outside the gates to collect the children and in the junior classes of schools. They are under-represented in management. Female parents are excluded very often from decision-making. Female teachers are not given full access to the posts of authority within the school system. That will take longer to rectify but at least our report noted it.

It makes links with what I will say later, that if you think of how this is extended into the third major area of socialisation, advertising, all of this runs together as a kind of college of discrimination and prejudice within the culture. For example, think of the advertisement which suggests that a woman who is not using the right powder for cleaning her floor will be covered in guilt because her child is left waiting sitting on a wall whereas the bright women who listen to the male voice over in advertisements suggesting the right powder to use on the floor have all collected their children on time. The women collectors of children, allied to the idea of women who listen to advertisements, the voice-overs of which are prepared by men all fits together including the question of guilt. I might come to that point straightaway. We began in our consideration in this report on sexism and the media with advertising because advertising fits as a reinforcing set of mechanisms into images that are already there.

I need not delay long on what I said earlier on the assumptions of a major editor of a newspaper trying to reduce our work to the level of the trivial by suggesting that we do not know the difference between men and women and that he knows these God-intended differences. Let us leave that kind of rubbish aside altogether and get on with the business of the two main implications within advertising. The first is in relation to the use of women to sell products and the [363] second, which occurs earlier in the report, is the fact that in every advertisement which is aimed at selling products there is another message which makes a statement about what women do in society. It would not be an unreasonable assumption to gather from the structure of many advertisements that women for a start are essentially defined within the homemaking role. We note three things: the exclusion of older women from advertisements; the use entirely of younger women; that women, for example, are presented whether they are young or old, whether they are beautiful or aging — whatever way you want to define all those terms — as not being able to make up their minds and need the assistance of a male voice to suggest what is both the inferior and the superior product. Thus, they are at the zenith of their poor powers — God bless them — when they refuse to give back the successful powder to the male who has come to take it back to go on and test it somewhere else. These images are regarded as appropriate for the sale of products. They are making very powerful statements.

Senator Dooge in introducing the report very correctly emphasised its research base. The committee had research commissioned not only on the content of advertisements but also on the reaction to them. Senator Dooge has correctly emphasised the point that perhaps advertisers are making a very serious mistake in assuming that the advertisements are acceptable to wide categories of the population. The evidence is otherwise. The evidence is that women find them offensive. It is very clear also from the evidence given to the committee that many other people are offended by these depictions. Indeed, when you think about it in many ways there is a kind of “ageism” in it also. Why is it that a particular kind of woman is depicted in the media? What happens all the women who were in the previous advertisements? Did they die of the products they were selling? Did they ever grow up?

[364]Professor Dooge: Information on James CI Dooge  Zoom on James CI Dooge  They were kept eternally youthful by the products.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  They were kept eternally youthful by the washing powders, the liquids and so on. On page 19 of our report we note a very important point, which is based on a number of comments made to us by the women evaluating the advertisements we showed them. We comment that advertisements which were evaluated as bad were those marketing washing powders and floor cleaning products which portray women as stupid, unintelligent and obsessional about “dirty clothes and dirty floors”. The idea is that the mind of the woman is entirely limited by an obsession that the man that she lives with will have clean cuffs, that the children will have greasy spots removed from their clothes, whether she will have them ready in time and not be found wanting. It is a great image of a woman in a republic and all this coming out like snow every day, etc., then gasping with delight at technology.

Indeed the relationship within science, technology and society of the role of women is a very interesting one. In the advertisements we looked at it was as if women were captured by the very technology itself. They were extensions of the machine, almost like the extension lead of the vacuum cleaner. They were just attached on to the end. Obviously, you needed to be very young to deal with all of this because you never saw an older woman in any of these advertisements. The danger in many cases is that it represents a powerful rationalisation. We should be very clear about this, it is the rationalisation of a prejudice and has to be seen as that. It is very powerful in its effect on the young. I remember speaking at the committee some time ago about a standard four primary school textbook in Irish which spoke about a woman going to buy a new dress. She brought her daughter with her. The mother said to the daughter: “Táimid ag ceannach gúna nua, tá a lán airgid ag daidí etc.” Daddy was allowing mammy to buy a new dress. The son intervened in the conversation and said that when he grew up he was [365] going to have a lot of money, too, and would buy dresses for the woman that came into his life. This in order to reinforce things better and give it a transcendental quality in the first language of the country which, no more than the involvement of God and the natural in advertising as I mentioned earlier, tells us something about the damage that this does to the language. I am not sure whether that text is withdrawn yet. With regard to the stereotypes in the text, there has been a considerable amount of achievement.

We benefited enormously from the quality of the submissions that were made of a written and an oral kind. The very first submission from Máirín de Búrca was a very fine one. It was well documented and it was a very lengthy submission. I am sure I speak for all the members of the committee when I say we were enormously indebted for the great start it gave. It was one of the submissions that came in the early work of the committee. It enabled us to get stuck into the matter. It was in that submission that the other aspect of the secondary existence of women was referred to in a very stark way. It referred to the presence at a funeral of the one of the most distinguished women of letters in Ireland. She was described as the daughter of somebody and as the wife of somebody else and her own name was excluded entirely: poor dear. She just happened to be there as a kind of after thought of the dead and the living.

It was in relation to advertising that we got some of the strongest submissions. It was in that area also that we commissioned research. In this regard we had a number of things to deal with. There was, first, the extent and quality of advertisements. I do not need to repeat, because it was placed on the record by Senator Dooge earlier, the degree to which the advertisements were offensive, objectively, and were found to be offensive in the reaction of the further research.

The point that arose immediately was who had control in this area. One is inclined to get from professional bodies [366] the rather pious statement that in every profession there are bad apples, like there are the odd abhorrent people, but by and large the profession is proud of its standards. The very definition of professionalisation in anything is that people have a certain anxiety about status, pride and standards. It became clearly apparent that there was a far distance between the advertising industry's code of standards and reality. On page 8 of the report we quote from the industry's code of standards:

all advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer and to society. No advertisement should explicitly or by implication infringe the principle of the social, economic and cultural equality of the sexes.

Did that mean that the profession has straightened everything out and would direct us to that as they did early on? The problem was that the submissions which came in and the research findings that had been commissioned all indicated something else and that was the distance between the reality and this particular statement. The proposer of this motion in asking us to note this report has drawn attention to the procedures that exist in terms of who makes the decisions that would implement this particular paragraph. They were singularly ineffective. Even if they were and you decided to invoke this particular paragraph we had the enormous discrepancy between complaints on the basis of sexism and complaints on every other criteria.

If they were serious about this it would set up a warning in the minds of the advertisers and their body that we were unhappy about the content and the implementing procedures of their very own criteria. But unfortunately there was not a response in the time the committee was sitting. Therefore it was that which moved — a point I noted earlier — the committee to come unanimously to the conclusion that we could not rely on self regulation in relation to advertising standards and that there was a need for statutory control.

[367] In relation to some of the other points that had been made, when we were presenting the report at the press conference we prepared a video which drew attention both to offending advertisements and also to advertisements that were trying to induce sexism from outside of this country. Reference has been made already to Canada. It is interesting to note the enormous shock when males were put into the stereotypical situations that females had been in previously. For example, one advertisement dealt with the question of a man furiously trying to get the table ready for his wife and her friends who were coming to dinner. Suddenly, there were males in all of these roles and people were shocked.

Advertising is located in a society, and this is the interesting fact, in which discrimination and prejudice against women are established and have been rationalised as natural. This question was raised here: can you get out of it if you are an advertiser by simply saying “I am here to sell products?” That has been answered by the advertisers themselves. They put in this paragraph about cultural, social and economic equality because they knew that the blatant statement, “We are there to sell products and that alone” would not go down too well. So they did what is now very normal in western societies, they affected a kind of responsibility by putting in this paragraph that I have quoted and then went on to live with the reality of stereotypical discrimination in advertising against women. It is extremely important that we address this.

The advertiser may well ask, have they the responsibility of undoing the prejudices of society? We do not say that they should be the main carriers of attitude change, but we do say they should not participate in the sustenance and, indeed, the creation and introduction of new forms of prejudice against women by carrying the kind of advertisements they carry. We have said explicitly in this report that we are not satisfied that they are able to enforce any standards themselves. We are to take the responsibility [368] of going before both Houses and asking for legislation in this area and we do so.

We now turn to the question of the national broadcasting service. They, after all, consume the outcome, the practices of the advertising industry. What is to be their responsibility? Can we, for example, draw a distinction between two particular forms of broadcasting? Supposing we were in a country that said that the market place dominates, and that should be the only criterion as to what the people will wear, what the people will buy. That might be acceptable if you had purely commercial version of broadcasting, something which happily does not prevail yet in this country. We have still a commitment to public service broadcasting, so the first constraint on looking at the treatment of advertisements and their possible sexist content is to note the responsibility that is implied in the very concept of public service broadcasting itself.

Public service broadcasting has always been justified on the basis that it is claimed to vindicate a wider, more responsible social vision, its cultural responsibility for example, its protection of minority interests and so forth. This to many people represents a tedium at times. It is there right at the centre of the concept of public service broad-casting—this concept of the public, for example, that goes beyond the private, the concept of service itself, which is an idea that it is provided with some involvement by the State or that there is a consensual basis for it. There is the acceptance of responsibility to minorities as well. Women, as it happens, are not a minority. When we interviewed the representatives of RTE they did not fall back on the ploy of saying “We are at the mercy of the people who supply us with advertisements”. They had a much more fruitful approach than that. But it did transpire, in the course of the evidence given, that they were in competition with other forms of broadcasting over which they had no control, so what were they to do? In many ways a great deal of the committee's work was spent on this very [369] question. What can a broadcasting network, even a State broadcasting network, do if they are, for example, in competition for viewers and listeners with systems that are outside the jurisdiction altogether and that might be operating under other criteria?

What can they do in another constraint if the product that is given to them is supplied by someone who has purchased time but has also purchased the advertising material in a finished form? Within RTE, as Senator Dooge has said, there is a copy clearance committee. We were pleased and so noted in the report that although when we began our proceedings and hearings there was no woman on that copy clearance committee by the time we finished our proceedings a woman had been appointed to the committee. That was a helpful development and it will assist in some small way. However, it does not answer the problem so the problem remains.

I hope many of these gaps will be closed by more procedural measures than by legislation. For example, if you consciously set about it, you must not only operate in terms of avoiding the previous defective type of advertising, but you can seek to undo it. I appeal to RTE to take an initiative, possibly based on the Canadian experience, or any other experience they may wish, to seek to consciously intervene to reverse the kind of assumptions that exist in the minds of the viewing public in relation to the appropriate roles of men and women.

The question arose as to an area in which apparently there was no responsibility at all. We had evidence given to us about advertorials, for example. As far as the advertising standards as I understand it, were concerned, they were not responsible for advertorials. I quote from page 32, 2.3:

The members of the Joint Committee were surprised to hear from the Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards for Ireland that advertorials are outside the scope of the Code of Standards of the ASAI.

[370] An advertorial is an item the contents of which are part advertisement and part editorial.

Some advertorials are in the opinion of the members advertisements in all but name. The members were appalled at one particular advertorial to them. The words and pictures were blatantly sexist and very offensive in their innuendo. The Advertising Standards Authority claims that advertorials are not advertisments, and that such a presentation has by definition some editorial imput. The members of the Joint Committee wish that the situation be clarified as to where the onus of responsibility lies — with the Advertising Standards Authority (primarily advertising) or with the NUJ (primarily editorial).

There, we are being somewhat idealistic in imagining that the NUJ govern the consciousness and thought of our editors, but let us be idealistic. The more important point I do wish to make is that here is a lacuna of response in terms of responsibility in relation to standards in advertising.

I shall move on from advertising. The points have been so well covered by the mover of this motion that I do not need to be repetitive. I wish to refer to the significance of the innovation which the appointment of a woman member to the copy clearance committee in RTE represented. One must remember, that Radio Telefís Éireann, employing 2,269 people at the time we wrote the report, had 680 female staff among that 2,269. One might think that 680 out of 2,269 represents a certain kind of proportion but, the absence of a woman from such an important committee tells its own story. That is the significance of the development which took place.

While noting the situation here in Ireland, among the more important sections in the report are those dealing with controls which exist in other countries. We note these in the report. We make reference to the controls which exist in the Scandinavian countries and in Canada, and we make a series of [371] recommendations for the controls which would eliminate the sexist content of advertisements in Ireland.

Specific legislative proposals are not easy in this area. It is perhaps easiest, in relation to drafting legislation, to specify what is directly offensive. That might be a starting point. It is more difficult — and it has to be approached in a more complex way — to tackle this question of the transmission of sexist assumptions in relation to roles. The portrayal of “the normal” is far more difficult and cannot be directly tackled by legislation. One can only lay down controls and guidelines within which progress can be made in that regard.

We were not in the business of issuing widespread condemnations. Thus, at the centre of the recommendations are a number of proposals for establishing interim procedures which would enable progress to be made. These involve the establishment of liaison committees, which would include representatives of all of those involved, so that we might make progress together towards the elimination of sexism. In this regard, the committee, leaning back towards its very first report, took cognisance of the importance of education. I want to lay a little more emphasis on that. It is absolutely inadequate, in the kind of world we live in, not to have courses available which make it possible for people to read the media accurately. With the original extension of literacy to vast minorities long after newsprint, people felt that if people could read the Bible only and not Tom Payne, things would be fine. People got into trouble immediately when they began to read widely, including pamphlets. Part of one's adequate participation in society is to be able to read the media. In that sense there should be educational programmes to try to create the capacity in children and young adults to know the significance and content of certain kinds of advertisements as they appear.

Although it was at the centre of this report the committee were not solely concerned about sexism in advertising. We [372] were interested also in the overall structure of the media, particularly the position of women in the media. I endorse what Senator Dooge said in connection with the interview with Vincent Browne of The Sunday Tribune. It was a very impressive interview. It was very clear that positive procedures had been laid down and that steps were being taken to ensure that women participated in the senior positions within that newspaper.

In relation to RTE, I have already given the number of people who work there and the proportion who are women. On page 48 of the report one can see the percentage disposal between males and females of the 2,269 people throughout the organisation. Of 241 section heads and higher executives, 220 are male and 21 are female, that is, 8.7 per cent are female. In the technical operational area, of 780 altogether, 727 are male and 53 are female, giving a 6.8 per cent of females in that category. In secretarial clerical administration, of 441 people employed, 366 are female and 75 are male, giving 82.9 per cent of females in that area. Thus, within the structures of perhaps one of the principal media organisations, you have a reflection of a situation which is markedly unsatisfactory.

Taking up the question raised earlier of what is statistically significant and what is politically significant, in trying to understand these figures we must ask questions as to what they are telling us. In relation to news, for example, things get a bit better. Of 146 people, 29 are female and 117 are male, that is, 19.9 per cent are female. The figure in programmes on TV is very satisfactory. Of 251 people employed, 128 are female and 123 are male, that is, 51 per cent are female. In programming on radio, 226 are employed, 69 are female and 157 are male, that is, 30.5 per cent are female. In the case of Radio na Gaeltachta, 30 people are employed, four are female and 26 are male — female employees number 13.3 per cent.

We must ask questions as to what these figures tell us in relation to the overall employment pattern of women. Is it not very similar to our first report where we [373] looked at the primary teaching sector and we noted the enormous number of women who were involved in primary teaching, but when we looked for women holding posts of principals of schools they were not there? This led us to tease out the question further about the criteria for the appointment of principals in schools. We found we could not answer the question on the basis of the criteria only, and we had to probe further to the interviewing process.

From submissions to us in relation to appointments to posts of responsibility and principalships of primary schools, we found that women were being asked questions such as: “Will you be getting married?”“Do you intend having a family?”“Who will look after the children?” Lo and behold, in the natural world, males rose automatically to the principalships of national schools. We are not in a position to say the same thing in relation to the broadcasting system, but the question is there. Why the under representation of women, given the fact that even within the organisation, in some sections women have been so markedly successful in both technical areas and the range of interests they have?

In relation to women and current affairs, one of the points which came out of the research which was particularly significant to me, was the fact that women, looking at advertisements and looking at portrayals of women in the media, are very angry at the assumption that they are not interested in anything other than domestic grit. Over 80 per cent of them are interested in current affairs, international news and so on.

Since this report went to print a colleague of mine at Galway University has been preparing another study on a week in the Irish newspapers. Only two or three days ago he drew my attention to the first rough result he had. The study was on photographs and I noted that practically months at a time go by with no woman ever appearing in the business and financial pages of any the Irish newspapers. In addition to that, one can then go looking for women in any capacity throughout the newspapers. One will find [374] that they are not represented 25 per cent of the time. Children, too, are unrepresented in the same way, because the world seems to exclude both to some extent.

When women do appear, they appear as the appendages of their partners in social events and so forth. There are very few presentations of women in their own right in areas where they are successful, for example, women standing outside Leinster House speaking about matters on which they have introduced motions or legislations. That tells its own story. It is an unfair argument because it introduces a circularity at the annual general meeting of shareholders or the meetings of companies and boards etc. It would be very wrong for me to blame the newspapers for not finding a women present at the annual general meetings of the banks, for example, as they have only just recognised the existence of the gender. In that regard, it is telling us the story that the media are reproducing, in their exclusions as much as their inclusions, a particular image of the society. I could not emphasise sufficiently that this is offensive not only to women. It was pointed out by the people who came to see us that it was found to be offensive by many individuals and groups.

Another point the committee noted is the manner in which items from abroad can filter into the Irish media in an almost uncritical sense. On page 50 an example is given from a column which appeared in 10 January 1986 under the heading “The World in Brief”. I quote:

Evelyn Arroyo, who is seeking a seat on the Hoboken Board Education, has taken off her dress and set the whole town talking. An advertisement in the local newspaper shows her curled in a seductive pose wearing a silken off-the-shoulder negligee....

What is the point in printing something like that in a “World in Brief” column other that just some kind of mindless titillation? I would remind the people producing such columns, that we have not got as far as education boards not to speak of elections in education in Ireland. [375] We are very far from people taking off their clothes to get elected to anything like that.

What is the relevance of something like that being carried in a column headed “World in Brief”? It is a column that would not carry the fact, for example, that four people are starving themselves to death at this very moment in Washington because of their condemnation of what the Administration are doing to kill, maim, murder and plunder in Nicaragua and that one of them will probably die in the next day or two. That is a fact that apparently is not appearing in the Irish media. One of them is a priest and the other three Vietnam veterans. But the “World in Brief” can appropriately carry the fact that Evelyn Arroyo, God bless her, has taken off her dress in some God forsaken hole in the United States in order to get elected to an education board.

I ask this House to take very seriously the recommendations we are making. It is appropriate at this stage, as a member of the committee, to thank the clerk of the committee, John Cullen, and to pay tribute to the members of the committee, particularly its chairperson, Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, and Deputy Monica Barnes, the vice-chairman, for the work that they have done and also the researchers who have worked with us and the people who made all the submissions. It is very valuable that the work of the committee is coming fairly quickly before the Seanad. I am hopeful that it will generate the necessary legislative response as quickly as possible. It is terribly important that these reports are not allowed to gather dust. In that regard I am not a pessimist at all.

There has been a response to our report on education. I have welcomed the implementation of those recommendations. I know too that many of our recommendations in relation to social welfare have found their way into the report of the Commission on Social Welfare. I know that we are to some extent ploughing new ground and I ask the House to lend its unanimous voice in an [376] appeal to the appropriate Departments to implement our recommendations as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  As a member of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights, like the two previous speakers I am glad to get an opportunity to make my contribution on this report. I would like to start off where Senator M. Higgins finished by paying a tribute to Deputy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the chairman, and Deputy Monica Barnes, the vice-chairman, for their hard work. I would also like to thank Mr. John Cullen for his patience and help on occasions and his assistant Ms. Maura Flanagan. I would also like to thank Ms. Maeve Casey, research psychologist with the department of psychology in UCD. Earlier today I paid a very brief tribute to Deputy Richard Bruton and I will not repeat that except to say that the committee passed a resolution congratulating Deputy Bruton on his promotion and expressing regret at losing the help of such an able and committed member. Together with many other aspects, this shows very clearly that the committee are, as they should be, above party political considerations. That is clear and I am grateful for it.

I will make a brief reference to the committee system. It is well worth while. It entails a great amount of work. In my case I found difficulty in attending many of the meetings. It is not easy to participate in the meetings and play a part in the proceedings of this House. That is the reservation I would have. Perhaps when reconsidering the committee system at a future date fewer committees might be more helpful, or there could be consideration with regard to meeting at different times when this House is not in progress.

Like the two previous Members, I want to express thanks to the individuals and groups who made written and oral submissions. I understand these will be published. I would like to know if they are available at present because, while we in the Oireachtas may get copies in the Oireachtas Library, I am sure many people outside would like to get copies [377] of the minutes of those presentations. In terms of this report — and it is quite an extensive volume — those minutes would run into many volumes. I should like to ask the Minister if they are readily available. I think they should be.

Before I deal with the report — and indeed I will only deal with sections of it as it is so comprehensive that it would take very long to go through the whole report — I should like to deal with the religious aspect and specifically with the ordination of women. I raised this matter at the joint committee meeting on 14 February 1983 and I got a good response. Indeed, I made the case that even in this area we do not have altar girls, not that that would be satisfactory in itself. I have seen many reports since in this regard. Many people would say that we have more important matters to deal with at present such as unemployment and the state of the economy and, indeed, I would agree. Nevertheless, in relation to women's rights I believe this is a very important area. There might be others who would say it is not appropriate for me to make a case in this regard. I feel strongly about it and I got a good response at that committee meeting.

I am referring specifically to the Catholic Church of which I am a member although I am setting no great headline as a member. There is a basic inequality with regard to women. Men may receive the seven sacraments but women may receive only six. They cannot receive Holy Orders. The difficulty is that the Church upholds the highest moral standards. Nobody would question that. Here we are on this committee trying to do whatever is necessary to achieve equality. How can we expect to get equality when the Church says that women may not be ordained, that for some reason they are not suitable, they are not good enough and they cannot be ordained. I cannot see any difficulty in this regard. The historical fact is that women have never been ordained in the Church, but I do not think there is any great change of dogma necessary to bring about a situation in which women would be ordained, because the [378] Church has life, vitality, growth. The central doctrine of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is alive and growing. There is this evolution in it.

Like church buildings one cannot be stagnant. We all recall the buildings of our youth. Indeed, some of them are with us still — the Gothic arches and so on that we identify with the Church. In the Church we have this growth. Buildings have changed and we now have modern buildings. What better evolution could we have or what better development within the Church than that women would be allowed to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders?

I will finish on this note in regard to this matter. I am no prophet, but I can foretell that the Church will ordain women. If it is to survive for another 2,000 years, and I believe it will, it must come to that decision to ordain women. People ask me am I questioning Christ. I am not doing any such thing. I am putting the case, as this committee are doing, that there should be equal rights for men and women. In this basic area of morality, no case can be made for continuing the situation as it is.

The terms of reference are fairly concise. They are that the joint committee shall:

(a) examine or propose legislative measures which would materially affect the interests of women,

(b) consider means by which any areas of discrimination against women can be eliminated, and by which the obstacles to their full participation and the political, social and economic life of the community can be removed.

(c) consider specific economic and social disadvantages applying to women in the home, and bearing in mind the special nature of their contribution to the community, to recommend effective policy and administrative changes to help eliminate these disadvantages and report to the Houses of the Oireachtas thereon.

What I would like to say here is that religion is not included. I accept that. [379] Indeed, I am sure religion should not be included. The State should not be involved in religion. But then, and for that reason, it is all the more important to deal in whatever way possible with religious inequality. I know, and indeed today's report in one of the newspapers states very clearly, that there are many women who would not want to be ordained. That is not the basic problem. Even if Holy Orders were available to women and even if no woman wanted to receive Holy Orders, the big question is are women in religion unequal to men? With the situation as it is at the moment, that is as I see it. I believe that should be changed.

Some people feel that equality in effect is a lowering of the status of women. Some women believe that they are stronger, more principled in character, that many ways it is the women who keep the men on the straight path. I would accept that. But that is in a situation where we have a reaction of women in a loving relationship. It has been said, that we are not saying that women are equal in strength to men or in many other areas. It is a question of equal rights.

With regard to the reports we have dealt with before on education and social welfare, Senator Michael D. Higgins has said there has been an impact. This will extend into the future. This report on the portrayal of women in the media is equally important. Indeed, if it had been selected as our first report, I would not quibble with it. It is of such significance. It is a subject to which the members of the joint committee have devoted considerable time and deliberation. They did so in the belief that the subject is one of importance, not only to Irish women, but also to concerned Irishmen, in other words to society as a whole.

The committee devoted particular attention in a number of areas, and these are specified; images of women in advertising and their effects, the structure of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland and the application of their code of standards in relation to sexist abuses, controls for sexism in advertising that [380] exist in other countries, the situation of women employed in the media and images of women in broadcast and print media. We had the oral presentations and the written submissions and in addition research was commissioned, as Senator Michael D. Higgins has stated.

The committee were satisfied from all the representations made to them that there is a high degree of resentment among sectors of the general public at the way in which women are portrayed in parts of the media. I would say this is related to concerned, thinking and forward looking people. The members are committed to elimination of this sexism from out society. Recognising the power of the media to influence attitudes, they attach a high priority to the elimination of sexism from all branches of the media. Some of the Members have dealt in detail with television and indeed television has a great impact. We all know the power of advertising. This is a feature of commercial and business life. Indeed, anyone who has a product to sell knows how important advertising is. In many instances I know that the price of an article is doubled, specifically because advertising is very expensive. But it pays in the long run. In the United States an £8 billion industry in the fifties rose to a £40 billion industry in the seventies. In Ireland £105 million turnover in 1984 grows to £117 million in 1985. That was an extraordinary increase. It is clear that such a high investment would not be countenanced by the industry unless it had an impact. Clearly in this area there is great potential for good, and the reverse.

All the advertisments project an image. Those targeted on women contain two messages. One is to buy brand X and the other is that women are thus in society. This is easy to understand. The primary purpose is to sell a product, but in addition to selling that product a myth is put across about women, that women are thus. The impact of this is great. The whole trend of the report is geared towards this power. To deny the implicit “women are thus” message is to deny the efficacy of advertising. Senator Dooge [381] has stated that advertisers would claim that it is not the function of advertising to promote social change. As against that, the manner in which they portray women has an impact on social change, and cognisance should be taken of that. Members drew attention to the industry's own code of conduct which states that all advertisments should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer and to society, and that no advertisment should explicitly or by implication infringe the principles of the social, economic and cultural equality of the sexes. In a sense, I suppose, this is not terribly strong, but in any event it is the standard. It is the standard or the norm by which industry will judge advertisments.

In relation to sexism in advertising, the committee dealt with the reports and analyses of various journals. These reveal a consensus as to the main sexist abuses and are dealt with under three headings, (1), the demeaning portrayal of the home maker, that is by far at the top of the list, (2), the exploitation of the female body and (3), failure to mirror current reality in role patterns. This research has been condensed into a rather compact table. Senator Dooge has referred to it and I should like to take the important parts of this table which is worked out under three headings, (a), female image portrayed in advertisements (b), criteria of sexism and (c), rationale for criteria of sexism.

Under the heading of home maker the criteria are woman as dependent, male authority voice-overs, male expert advisers and women as unintelligent. The rationale for criteria of sexism suggests woman incapable of doing basic domestic tasks on her own authority or on a shared authority with her partner, the home maker reaching unparalleled heights of ecstacy from doing basic domestic tasks or being obsessional about certain domestic chores.

Under the second heading, the decorative female is subcategorised under the headings of carefree, fashion, sensual and sex symbol. The criterion there is that excessive use fails to mirror the current reality of women in a wider diversity of roles. That excessive use implies that the [382] female main role in life is to be passively decorative. The criterion with regard to the sex symbol is nudity as eye catcher, and the rationale or criteria of sexism are use of female body solely as attention getter; woman as object; exploitation of female body, and other areas which I will not mention in regard to the concept of decorative female.

Thirdly, consideration is given to modern woman combining a career with a home making role. The criteria there are excessive avoidance of modern woman — failure to mirror current reality in role patterns with the rationale denying current reality of the growing number of women's lifestyles.

Number four relates to the older woman and the criterion there is excessive avoidance of indeed, we could go so far as to say total avoidance of the older woman. This suggests that the older woman is better hidden or invisible, even privately, given the portrayal of domestic life in advertising.

The last consideration is of authority in voice-overs. We note that there is excessive use of male authority voice-overs and that this fails to mirror the reality of women as comprising over 50 per cent of the population. I do not spend very long in front of television but even so I note that we have these voice-overs. I realise that many of these advertisements are prepared in other countries and that it will take some time before this report will have effect in that regard, but I will be looking out for that.

With regard to sexism in advertising in Ireland, the committee found that in order to present reliable and accurate information regarding the portrayal of women in advertising it was necessary to commission research. Part of this involved the collation of 339 advertisements under certain categories from television, radio, magazines, newspapers, buses and billboards during the period March and April 1985. It is interesting to note from the table supplied in the report with regard to that research that of the total number of 339, 84 were related to home maker. Of these, 27 had [383] own or shared authority, 45 had a male authority and 12 had no voice-over. The decorative female category had a staggering number of 183 out of 339, 44 showes the female as carefree, 66 as sensual, 38 as fashionable and 35 as sex objects. Therefore, of the 339, 84 and 133 involved the home maker or the decorative female.

Let me make a brief comment on that research. Of the advertisements using a home maker image 54 per cent suggested with their choice of voice-over that a woman performed her domestic duties subject to male authority and a number of these implied that women attach enormous importance to basic domestic chores.

In the category excessive use of decorative females in advertisements, 54 per cent suggested that a woman's main role in life was to be decorative and a majority of these showed woman as passive. Of the advertisements referred to 19 per cent were blatantly exploitive in using women as sex objects and only four per cent portrayed women in any work whatever outside the home, including the most traditional female work areas such as clerk, secretary, teacher, nurse and factory worker. It is noted that almost 80 per cent of the advertisements sampled showed women in the glamour girl, home maker dichotomy and only 1 per cent of the advertisements portrayed older women, while 82 per cent of radio advertisements for non-domestic products used male voice-overs, thus failing to reflect that over 50 per cent of the population is female.

The report comes to the conclusion that these findings present a narrow, limited, inaccurate and at times exploitive portrayal of women. Could anybody really question those findings? I do not think so.

With regard to the effects of sexist advertising, the cumulative effect of this portrayal hour after hour, day after day, week after week, is to undermine women whether their primary roles be as home makers or participants in the labour force. It does not mirror current reality [384] in role patterns. More important, this undermining is bound to counteract the work being done in other areas such as schools, industry, trade unions and among all concerned people who want change in this area. It is not suggested that advertisers set out consciously to demean women; of course they do not, but the widespread use of sexism in advertising indicates a grave awareness with regard to the advertising industry and is contrary to their own code of standards — the standards of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland — which state, and this has been mentioned by Senator Higgins:

All advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer and society. No advertisement should explicitly or by implication infringe the principle of the social, economic and cultural equality of the sexes.

That is not as positive as we would wish but nevertheless it is a norm and if the advertisements shown on television were compared with it, they would not be allowed. This portrayal of women is inaccurate at all times — the report states “at times”. It is common to so many people that it poses a real problem, not only for today but for the future. This is the nub of the problem.

The constant exposure of young impressionable people to this type of advertising will lead them inevitably to believe in it and many of them will accept it as true. Over a long period the effect of this type of advertising will certainly influence women as to how they should behave and convey to men and to boys an impression as to how women should behave. If they do not behave in that manner they are stepping outside their role and misbehaving. This lays down the parameters to the role women must play. This is the major problem. It is impossible to understand fully the impressions advertisements make on young people. In that area, there is no room for the many women who have special talents. The media are one area which shows that women have many talents. The talented [385] well known women journalists are proof of that. I am tempted to name some of them but, on reflection, it might be better not to. Everybody will accept the statement that women in journalism and in the media could be considered superior to men.

With regard to woman as the home maker, this is an important area. A number of submissions emphasised that many advertisements implied that a woman's place is only in the home, that her only work is housework and that this is the only basis for asserting her worth. She is shown as being interested only in serving her husband and children without regard to her own talents or ambitions. She is seen as a docile, passive and contented individual. While advertisements might show the woman in that light, many married men would say otherwise. I say that in passing. These advertisements show a woman as being unsure of herself and always needing the advice of a man and his approval for anything she does, buys or wears. Most of the advertisements are for products used mostly by women.

I have already referred to the preponderance of male voice-overs which, in one sense, is insulting to women, with regard to such items as washing machines, detergents, polishes and so on. In any of the advertisements I have seen on television, I cannot recall seeing a man wearing an apron washing up dishes. Perhaps there is such an advertisement, but if there is, I am sure it would be typical of modern life in Ireland where increasingly the husband is playing his part with the domestic chores. The report asks how many men know anything about these articles. Even when they help in the home, I am sure they depend on the judgment of the woman of the house.

The joint committee are not denigrating the value of the work of a woman in the home. On the contrary it is a contribution Members believe our culture has consistently undervalued. It must be emphasised that the talents of a woman extend beyond the area of the kitchen. There is a growing tendency for the work to be shared by the man and the woman, [386] but this fact does not seem to have permeated through to the advertisers. This portrayal implies that the woman is lacking in intelligence and that her interests outside the home are nil. It is inaccurate in that it suggests men do not share the housework with their partners. It shows the woman slavishly tied to the kitchen sink. Those of us involved in house design know that the trend is to get away from the kitchen sink and this trend has been very successful.

With regard to the woman as a decorative female sex object, the proliferation of advertisements which depict women as sex objects or mere decorations suggests that women are obsessed by their bodies and by being sexually attractive to men. This type of advertising reinforces the impression that a woman cannot be appreciated as a person in her own right, a person with intelligence, chosen for her intelligence and appreciated for her intelligence, but for such things as hair style, make-up, perfume, clothes or lack of clothes, which make her attractive to men. This is insulting. It undervalues the intelligence of women and those who watch the advertisements. It is interesting to note that, in advertisements of this kind, women are always portrayed as young, pretty and slim. It would seem that in the world of advertising the heavy hand of old age never touches the female form. This is a totally unreal situation.

The report stated that the portrayal of a woman as a sex object to promote the sale of goods and services is, in effect, an affront to the dignity and the intelligence of the human person. It stated that the continued portrayal of women in such situations as decorative additions to merchandise can result only in a lowering of the status and dignity of women in society. It was represented to the joint committee that such a portrayal is on a continuum from soft to hard pornography. Those are very strong words. It is a very strong condemnation but who can say it is extreme? Who can say it is exaggerated? It puts it in its proper light as viewed by the committee.

The report stated that while it cannot [387] be shown there is direct link between such portrayal and the sexual abuse of women, it is reasonable to infer that the portrayal of women as sex objects conditions the mind to accepting them as such. Advertisers must realise they have a responsibility in this regard to portray women in a non-sexist and dignified fashion.

The Advertising Authority for Ireland have been referred to. They are a voluntary body responsible for both broadcast and print advertising. I wish to express my gratitude to them for the help they gave the committee. The Code of Advertising Standards for Ireland is administered by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland. It is a voluntary code containing a specific reference which deals with sexism. The code states inter alia that:

—all advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer and to society. No advertisement should explicitly or by implication infringe the principle of the social, economic and cultural equality of the sexes.

Personally, I would prefer to see that in a positive rather than in a negative light. It also stated that all advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful. Quite frankly, I find this to be rather ambiguous. Some of the advertisements to which the committee would take grave exception might possibly be justified when considered in the light of those criteria.

The report stated that between the period May 1981 and February 1985 almost 10 per cent of the 945 complaints by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland related to sexist issues. Some 945 complaints were received and of these 727 were not pursued. Of the total number received 92 relation to sexism, 16 were not pursued, 76 were pursued and 22 were upheld, 29 per cent. The report made this comment in connection with the matter.

Of the 92 complaints relating to [388] sexism, 76 were pursued. Of these complaints 22 relating to three sexist advertisements were upheld. In the latter case the offending advertisments were withdrawn but no fines were imposed on the manufacturers, advertising agencies or media involved. Whilst the members accept that the low number of complaints received suggest public apathy on this issue, they find it deplorable that in the case of 36 complaints made and not upheld (mainly relating to the portrayal of women as a sex object) the specific clause of the ASAI code relating to sexism appears to have been ignored. Complaints were rejected on the grounds that they were not in breach of a general clause in the code which states that—

advertisements should contain nothing which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave or widespread offence.

I find this is very vague and not at all forward looking. Something more specific is required there.

The report states that members of the ASAI interviewed claim they had a difficulty in interpreting the clause covering sexism in their own code. The committee suggested that the criteria laid down in the table in the report be accepted.

Senator Higgins referred to advertorials. An advertorial is neither an editorial nor an advertisement. It is difficult to come to a conclusion as to who is responsible for it. It seems to me that an advertorial is a clever way of pretending that something advertised is recommended by the editorial staff. I am sure it is very effective. I will not go so far as to say it is deceitful, but in a situation where so many people would read an advertorial and accept it as editorial input I think it is deceitful. Advertorials, as I understand them, are not related solely to text; pictures are included. This is an area where it is necessary to have some kind of definition as to who is responsible. I hope this will be done in the near future.

[389] The committee made certain recommendations for change in the ASAI. They were satisfied that, if the existing code of standards were strengthened by the inclusion of a specific section dealing with the portrayal of women, including proper guidelines as to what is and is not acceptable in the whole area of advertising, the agencies and the industry in general would become more aware of the need to eliminate sexism to reflect the reality of the rapidly changing role of women in society.

The code of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland at present contains ten appendices setting out rules to be adhered to in relation to the advertising of specific goods and services but, significantly, there are no rules, regulations or guidelines to cover the portrayal of women in advertising. The committee consider that omission should be rectified immediately. I feel if this were done it would do much good and it would in itself justify the work of the committee. Again, the committee suggest that the criteria laid down in table 1 in the report be adopted.

The broadcast media have been referred to by Senator Dooge and Senator Michael Higgins. The role of Radio Telefis Éireann as the national broadcasting service is vital to any discussion of women in the media. The joint committee expressed thanks to the Liaison Group on Women in Broadcasting and the copy clearance committee of RTE for appearing before them, setting out the situation as they saw it in RTE and also to the management and staff who gave the fullest co-operation at all times.

The report states that in January 1979 a working party was set up by the RTE Authority to examine the position with regard to women in broadcasting. Its terms of reference covered three specific areas: (1) representation of women in programmes, in terms both of actual participation and programme orientation; (2) job opportunities in broadcasting; and (3) portrayal of women in advertising. All advertisements on television are subject to the code of conduct of the ASAI [390] but RTE also operate their own code of conduct for standards in broadcast advertising.

Senator Dooge dealt with the question of the copy clearance committee and pointed out that it did not have even one lady member. It is very difficult to understand how in an organisation where so many women are employed and have made a big impact that this is so. The committee were very disappointed to discover that. However, as Senator Dooge said, arrangements were made to draft one lady onto the copy clearance committee and we were promised it would be done by September 1985 but this deadline was not met. Nevertheless, in October 1985 a woman was drafted onto that copy clearance committee. The joint committee made it clear that they wanted a very competent person, somebody who would make a big impact on that committee and I believe this has been done. The committee also had reservations about the composition of the copy clearance committee and Senator Dooge referred to that. Members were drawn solely from the managers sales division and the committee thought it was very important to have consumer representation on that committee.

With regard to the print media the image most prevalent in advertisements is that of the decorative female. Members of the joint committee are very conscious of the importance of portraying a woman in an attractive way but they rejected the narrowness of vision which emphasises this aspect of femininity to the exclusion of all other aspects of a woman's life. Appendix J to the Code of Advertising Standards states:

Advertisements should neither claim nor suggest that any drink can contribute towards sexual success or make the drinker more attractive to the opposite sex.

Yet this is being done. It is difficult to understand how, in view of that part of the code, these advertisements got through but, nevertheless, that is the reality.

In their recommendations with regard [391] to control of sexism in advertisements here the committee felt it was necessary to have a statutory regulation for the control of advertising. We considered the position in ten countries that had various means of controlling advertising. Canada is one country where a voluntary code seems to be successful. Other countries had less success but the committee came to the conclusion with regard to the progress being made here and the want of concern, that statutory regulations were important. The committee felt it was important that in any new legislation there would be a specific clause covering sexism in advertising. The report dealt with Norway where there is a specific statute and although the clause seemed rather innocuous to me it appears to be very effective. The clause is as follows:

The advertiser and anyone who creates advertising shall ensure that the advertisement does not conflict with the inherent equality between the sexes, and that it does not imply any derogatory judgment of either sex, or portray a man or woman in an offensive manner.

The committee suggest that in order to aid the transition to non-sexist advertising a liaison committee should be established. The joint committee felt this should be comprised of one ASAI representative from each of the following groups: advertisers, advertising practitioners, broadcast media and print media. It should also have one representative of consumer interests, nominated by the Director of Consumer Affairs and two representatives of women's affairs nominated by the Council for the Status of Women. Members recommended that the liaison committee in pursuit of their aims should take the following steps:

(1) prepare guidelines of do's and dont's towards a positive portrayal of women in advertising.

That is important, could be very effective and would not be in any way inhibiting. The recommendations continue:

[392] (2) prepare an audio visual presentation on sexism in advertising to be made available to the industry, consumer groups, women's groups and other interested parties.

(3) that speakers be available to address interested groups, in particular groups from the advertising industry.

(4) that a bibliography of sexism in advertising be prepared and made available on request.

(5) that the committee's role as watchdog for the primary consumer group in our society as regards her portrayal in advertising, be made public.

Like other Members I should like to thank the editors of the Irish Sunday newspapers who came before us. Members of the committee were disappointed that one editor declined an invitation to appear before the joint committee and a copy of his letter is included in our report. It has been referred to already and I do not intend to spend any time on it except to say I was disappointed with the letter. The editor of that newspaper stated:

My own view is that there is a considerable difference between men and women. They look different, for a start and I firmly believe that a tractor adorned by a girl in a bikini is infinitely more pleasing to the human eye than the same tractor adorned by a man in Y-fronts.

With regard to that point, the exploitation of the female body, the report states:

The distaste experienced by women's rights activists at the exploitation of the female body in a National Sunday newspaper is well known. The members of this committee find it regrettable that the NUJ continue to tolerate such blatant, flagrant, and persistent infringements of their own Code of Professional Conduct.

The point has been answered perfectly by Senator Dooge. Anybody trying to sell a tractor will be hoping to sell it for agricultural use and, while I am sure there [393] are many women playing a very important role on the farm and driving tractors, it is not a decorative role, and people will buy a tractor for what it can do rather than on the basis of a picture in a paper.

The religious basis this editor referred to was dealt with and is interesting. He concluded:

And I don't think that me sitting in a room answering questions is going to change the fact that women, by and large, not only look different to men, but also think differently and act differently.

My regret in this regard is that in order to make inroads into this problem it is very important to have the co-operation of all those who are in such vital positions. This editor, if he came before us, while he did refer in a perjorative way to the august body, would find that the emphasis was in trying to deal with this great problem. I very much regret that the editor of such an important paper could not see his way to play a part in the work we were trying to do.

Any lowering in the dignity and status of woman is an offence against the whole human family and is resented by both male and female. The joint committee presented the report to all the interested parties in a spirit of co-operation and goodwill. The study by the members was not intended to antagonise or upset anybody or any group and criticisms in the report arise only after long and careful deliberations, from their commitment to eliminate sexism and from the point of view that it could not be eliminated.

The final part of the report is as follows and is important. It is stated on page 70:

Every individual can play a part in promoting the concept of equality between the sexes, but nowhere is the opportunity to do so as great as in the mass media, that powerful moulder of attitudes. This opportunity must be grasped by all concerned so that the days of negative and unreal portrayal of women be a thing of the past, and women are seen to have equal rights with men in the pursuit of fulfilment [394] and happiness, be their primary contribution as homemakers or in the workforce.

I look forward to the Minister's reply. As the two previous reports on education and social welfare made a considerable impact, I hope that this report will make an even greater impact because it affects everybody; nobody escapes from it. For that reason, I look forward to immediate and long term results from this very comprehensive report.

Mrs. Rogers: Information on Brid Rodgers  Zoom on Brid Rodgers  I will be very brief and I do not intend to go through the whole report. It has been adequately dealt with by the other people who have spoken in the House but there are a few points I wish to make. The concept of equality of the sexes is not freely understood, particularly in Ireland, and the confusion about the fact that men and women are different tends to lead to the conclusion in some parts that because they are different they cannot be equal. They can be different and equal at the same time of course. It is a difficult concept to get across sometimes. Interestingly, I wished to acquire a new pup in my household recently and when I rang the vet for advice as to what kind of a pup to get, always being aware of the difficulties of having a bitch in the house at certain times of the year, she said that bitches are far more intelligent. I do not know if that is the case with humans, I should like to think we are all equally intelligent.

No one would disagree with the fact that the most important influence in modern times is the media, particularly television. Therefore, the transmission of an attitude through television of an inferior status of women will make the job of attaining equality between the sexes much more difficult. There is not much point in making progress in the educational sphere — as indeed progress has been made — by encouraging girls to take up science subjects and saying that they can do jobs that heretofore were considered to be in the male province only if the media are screaming at us all the time that women are inferior and [395] only fit for certain roles in life. They are putting across an attitude which is not in tandem with the realities of modern living and, therefore, it is important that changes should be made. I agree that it will require legislation, I do not think it will happen voluntarily because there is no awareness of the problem. I do not think that even many women are aware of the fact because it is done very subtly on television. People tend to accept what they see in advertising without analysing it or without realising that a certain attitude is being subtly pushed. I do not think that the advertisers deliberately create a situation where they maintain women in an inferior status; it just happens to be the custom.

The other proposal at the end of the report that there should be a proposal to introduce media studies into the curriculum in secondary schools which would include a study of sexism in advertising is very important and ought to be taken up because until people are fully aware of the extent of the problem there is no chance of dealing with it. As we all know, it is only when public awareness is heightened about the problem and pressure put on politicians and on other people that things begin to happen.

Traditional attitudes regarding the superiority of the male or the role of the woman in the domestic area will not change because of the vicious circle in relation to women not getting promotion. heretofore, they were not educated to take up certain jobs but even nowadays there is an attitude that women are not fit for these jobs. There is also the other hurdle of convincing people that women are fit for these jobs but if the media promote traditional attitudes then you are not really dealing with the problem, you are just creating a vicious circle.

We must begin with education and I was horrified to read the pages about women in the media, especially women in RTE. Although I accept what is said in the report that there is a certain amount of satisfaction with the way the RTE Authority made their submissions, were prepared to listen and to deal with [396] the problem, we still have a very long way to go. I note that between 1981 and 1985 the percentage of women in the higher echelons of RTE went up by something like 6 per cent. It is a very small percentage increase.

When one thinks of the women who have made it into the higher echelons, particularly, those who are fronting on RTE and when you think of how capable and how good they are, how they have proven that women are equal and in some cases, as in all walks of life, are more equal than some men it is distressing to note that the position in 1985 was that with 30 per cent of the workforce in RTE being women you still had a situation where very small percentages, which Senator Michael D. Higgins has already referred to, were in the higher executive places and heads of Departments positions while 82.9 per cent of women were in what we might refer to when discussing discrimination in Northern Ireland, the more menial jobs, the humdrum jobs, the clerical jobs. There is a very serious imbalance.

When we have regard to those women who have made it to the top in RTE we must realise that the imbalance regarding women in the higher positions cannot be attributed to lack of ability. Neither can it be attributed to a lack of applications by women for jobs in the higher echelons because I note on page 49 that in recruitment and promotion within RTE in 1984, of the total number of applications, 4,143, there were 2,074 female applicants and 2,069 male applicants so there is an equal distribution of applications but yet when it comes down to actual recruitment and promotion female applicants take a steep drop and come down to 33 per cent of the 50 per cent who applied. There still seems to be a problem.

There is asked towards the end of the report the question of whether RTE's present level of commitment is enough. I just wonder if it is? I would be prepared to be convinced but I think that the best way of convincing people of that is by action. When we see more women fronting programmes and being promoted to senior executive posts in RTE we will be [397] able to say that there is no bias within that media. I am sorry to harp so much on RTE but it is after all the national broadcasting system. If they do not give a lead in this area, it is a poor look out for other voluntary bodies whom we try to goad into action from time to time.

That is all I want to say except to reinforce the point that there is a vicious circle and that unless that vicious circle is broken the inferior status of women will tend to perpetuate itself or at least will be more difficult to deal with. Standards in advertising have a crucial role to play in helping us to come to terms with the need for equality between the sexes.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mrs. Fennell): Information on Nuala Fennell  Zoom on Nuala Fennell  I would like to say how pleased I am to be in this House for this debate and to say that the Joint Committee on Women's Rights were very well represented by Senators Dooge, Fitzsimons and Higgins who contributed to the debate. Women generally were well served by their contributions.

I welcome this document. It is well researched. It is reasoned and it is non-party political. It will contribute greatly to, first, creating greater public awareness of the existing defects in this area of the portrayal of women in the media and also to changing attitudes and practices.

There is no doubt, as the report indicates, that there is resentment. I would even go further and say there is a great anger among women particularly and among others, too, about the way they are portrayed in sections of the media. Since I was appointed I have been getting letters and phone calls from women. They came from women who one could only describe as very steamed up at a particular advertisement they would have read or seen. They feel very helpless because they feel they are the victims and can do nothing about it. They ask me to intervene and take some action. I am happy to say that I have intervened. I have written to the advertisers for various products and either asked to meet them or put forward the case that would be put to me by a particular woman or women's [398] group. In many instances these advertisers have been very pleased and conciliatory in so far as they would not have thought that their advertisement was either distressing or offensive.

The women who phone me or who write to the Council for the Status of Women or to somebody else are the ones that are really angry. There is another group who subconsciously are uncomfortable and who may not even articulate this discomfort but they will talk to their friends about it. On a purely financial basis I suggest that it cannot be good for the product if the advertising of certain products is making the consumer, the individual that is supposed to buy on the basis of the advertisement, as uncomfortable and as unhappy as that.

The report concentrates largely on current images of women in advertising. The efficacy of advertising as a means of selling ensures that it is now an established feature of commercial and business life. But it goes much further in that it comes into all our homes and influences our opinions and those of our children. It is, therefore, appropriate for the joint committee to devote so much of their report to this area and their finding that advertising generally provides a narrow, limited, inaccurate and at times exploitative portrayal of women should be a cause of great concern and their observation that the cumulative effect of this portrayal, through constant repetition, not only fails to mirror current reality in role patterns but is undermining of women, is worthy of the most considered attention.

The report does not suggest that advertisers set out consciously to produce these effects. On the contrary, it states that while it is true that many members of the industry pride themselves on their professionalism, and find the suggestion that some of their practices are sexist and an embarrassment, many of these professionals appear to have no clear awareness of what constitutes sexism.

This I find is more disquieting than if a deliberate attempt had been made to undermine the status of women. To be [399] fair to advertisers, this lack of awareness is not confined to them. The joint committee found a need for an increased awareness among editors and journalists to portray women in a realistic fashion and to veer away from the condescending and trite way in which women and their affairs are so often presented in print. In the case of RTE, the transmission of advertisements that are blatantly sexist and offensive is seen as indicative of a general apathy and indifference to the sensitivities of women viewers in particular.

Looked at in the most charitable light, many of the images, with which we are constantly bombarded, of the women's role in the home, in the workforce, etc. are outdated, if they were ever true.

But even if the only fault is out-datedness, that fault alone is highly offensive in the context of the great strides which have taken place in the provision of equal status for women in our society through the implementation of wide-ranging, anti-discrimination legislation in the past decade or so. The roles and perceptions of women have, as a result, been changing rapidly and dramatically with the result that very many women, to their advantage, are reappraising their potential, ambitions and aspirations.

So, should the media not be helping women to broaden their horizons instead of insidiously promoting concepts of women which are detrimental, even if blameworthiness can be attributed only to inertia and ignorance?

The perpetuation of the concept of male dominance is not always overt. The use of male voice-overs is often sufficient to suggest that women perform their duties subject to male authority. A summary report published recently by the EC Commission on how women are represented on television programmes in the EC points out that these voice-overs imply that men advise and women buy. We find in the same report that Ireland has the highest proportion of male voice-overs in the EC at 94.2 per cent. The research conducted in connection with [400] the joint committee's report found that 82 per cent of radio advertisements for non-domestic products used male voice-overs, thus failing to reflect that over 50 per cent of the population is female.

The only fail-safe method of guaranteeing balanced advertising is by the involvement of women at all levels of the media business. The EC report to which I have referred concludes that positive action should include “all the measures which aim, through a sustained effort, to change the rules of the game” in order to eliminate the factors which automatically reproduce inequalities as detrimental to women”. They say that this definition embraces the objectives and methods by which changes can be wrought not only in programmes content but also in the institutional bodies, the work environment, attitudes and the cultural and aesthetic standards that apply in our society.

Substantial emphasis is placed on the involvement of women in management, programme design and direction posts which are held largely by men. According to the report of the Joint Committee, the highest post held in the management structure of RTE by a women is head of department. The committee are convinced that a stronger female presence in mainstream news and current affairs programmes would enhance output and recommend a stronger female presence at all levels, in particular in policy and decision-making positions. There is also room for improvement in the print media and the fact that many women journalists in the national papers have a high profile belies the reality that the Dublin news branch of the NUJ has a female membership of only 11 per cent.

The committee recommend the introduction of statutory controls for the elimination of sexism in advertising. The point is made that voluntary controls have not proved sufficient and that, therefore, more persuasive control is needed. Statutory controls have already been introduced for advertisements connected with employment under the Employment Equality Act, 1977, and the [401] extension of that control is being considered in the context of my proposals for an equal status Bill in the broad area of goods, facilities and services which I hope to be in a position to submit to the Government very shortly.

The committee cite the relevant section from a Norwegian statute governing sexism in advertising and recommend that controls similar to those in Norway be introduced in this country. The section in question requires that an advertisement must not conflict with the inherent equality between the sexes, imply any derogatory judgment of either sex, or portray a man or woman in an offensive manner.

Unfortunately, what is a derogatory judgment or what is an offensive portrayal could give rise to considerable difficulties of interpretation, particularly at a time when the status of women is still undergoing beneficial change. A summary of a paper given to an Independent Broadcasting Authority Conference in 1984 contains some interesting observations:

The portrayal of women is a majority issue in that there are more women then men and a series of smaller issues in that a wide range of diverse opinions are held, some by the same individuals at different times or in different circumstances. There is no archetypal portrayal of today's women which could or should be the basis of all broadcast advertising.

The paper points out that while irrelevant nudity certainly gives offence, especially when accompanied by innuendo, a presentation which portrays women as being sexually attractive, relevant to the product being advertised and not tasteless, would make the question as to whether there is offence debatable.

Advertisers could argue that the majority of products advertised on our screens are not primarily being sold to women in their working role and because it is mainly women who cook and because they cook in their domestic and not in [402] their workplace situations, they are portrayed thus. Whether we like it or not, the argument is not unreasonable.

Examples are also given in the paper of how changing the gender of the person shown can change the message. It is a perceptual problem in that to many people a man in front of a keyboard indicates that he is using a computer, whereas a woman shown in the same situation is looked on as a typist. It must be remembered that the people connected with the making of advertisements are masters of the perceptual arena and are acknowledged experts in creating illusions.

I find it quite surprising that advertisers are not more in tune with women's own perception of their place in modern society. After all, 80 per cent of consumers are women and if advertisers wish to communicate effectively with today's women and capitalise on the massive spending power which they represent, they would be well advised to look into the area of women's self perception and change their tactics accordingly. It amazes me that what has been aptly described as “the notion of woman as a sort of scatterbrained domestic prostitute” is still very prevalent, particularly in detergent commercials. The advertiser's brief must be to present the client's product in the most favourable light to the potential customer. It must appeal to the target group and if it offends the potential customer, or offends someone who will influence a potential customer, then it is has negative effects.

Advertisers have no wish to upset anyone and it is reasonable to believe that where mistakes are made they are not made with any malice. Indeed, the effects of mistakes can be costly for both advertisers and the product which they advertise. We had an example earlier this year of a food product commercial which was withdrawn following complaints from the National Grocers' Association. The National Director of RGDATA said at the time that women were as integral a part of food retailing as men “and should not be depicted as being unsupportive and unaware and lacking in intelligence”. It is this type of public pressure [403] which will force advertisers to adopt a fresh approach.

The blunders which are made in relation to advertisements could be avoided if sufficient thought went into their production. It is clear that there is no offence intended and awareness programmes for those involved should go a long way towards eliminating these aberrations. The committee's recommendations that media studies to include sexism in advertising be introduced into the secondary curriculum, that a liaison committee be established to work in cooperation with the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland towards the elimination of sexism in advertising, the inclusion of female consumer representation on the ASAI's committee of management and on the RTE copy clearance committee would, I am convinced, bring about significant improvements I am glad to say that the female representation on the copy clearance committee has come about.

I have already referred to the EC report on women in television programmes on the EC. In its conclusions, the report says that “while an attempt might be made to control advertisers and advertising agencies by the imposition of regulations, experience has shown that there are plenty of opportunities for circumventing the rules. We have the example of cigarette advertising: where it was banned or restricted, companies produce advertisements showing matches or lighters “dressed up” in the same packaging as the cigarettes.

Any steps must be taken by the advertisers and advertising agencies themselves and it is they, therefore, who must be made aware of what is at stake. Their voluntary participation on advertising standards boards where sexual discrimination is one of the elements considered is likely to be far more effective than any form of legislation.

This having been said, advertisers and their publicity agents could be persuaded first, by the establishment of an award or competition for material which attempts to promote a positive image of women, [404] secondly, by campaigns conducted by consumer associations and womens' organisations in order, for example, to encourage women to use or buy the products of firms striving to promote alternative images of women and, thirdly, making films or sequences which satirise the traditional practice, for example, by making use of role reversal.

The EC report, in a recommendation similar to that of the joint committee, states that an education campaign should be mounted in teaching establishments aimed at pupils and teachers alike which would help them to develop a critical attitude towards what they see on their television screens.

While the question of statutory reform in this area is one which will require careful consideration, the very fact that this report has been completed, that it is being debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas with the attendant publicity this will bring and that so many Dáil and Seanad Members have obviously contributed much time and effort in preparing this report will guarantee that there will be an immediate improvement in the situation.

To quote once again from the EC summary report: “Generally speaking, it seems to us that the chief tool to bring about any change for the better is for people to be made aware of the issues. The mere uncovering of the facts is a prerequisite in improving a situation which until now has been poorly researched, summarised, interpreted and understood”.

I hope time will see the implementation of the recommendations contained in this report. I look forward in particular to seeing a stronger female presence in all sections of the media as it is only then that I feel the elimination of all types of undesirable advertising will be assured. I have no doubt that women themselves at all levels of society would be quick to dispel attitudes and proposals involving outmoded and inaccurate traditional concepts.

Question put and agreed to.


Last Updated: 13/09/2010 23:27:01 First Page Previous Page Page of 8 Next Page Last Page