Southend councillors condemn controversial government COVID advertisement

Southend councillors have spoken of their relief after a controversial Government coronavirus advertisement “portraying an outdated representation of women” was withdrawn.

The poster urged the nation to “stay home and save lives” attracted controversy from MPs across the country on Twitter.

The poster illustrated four images – a woman looking after children, carrying out chores and a woman home-schooling her children. The final image showed a woman lounging in a man’s arms on the sofa.

Southend Labour councillor Helen McDonald, who represents Kursaal Ward said she felt the ad was “outdated” and portrayed an inaccurate stereotype of women.

She said: “It’s good to hear that the advert has been pulled. It was outdated and relied on lazy and inaccurate stereotypes at the expense of the campaign’s message. It is a real shame that such stereotypical images of women were used in this campaign, not only because it does not show the true diversity of home life in many UK families, but also because discussion of whether it is sexist or not have become such a distraction from the campaign’s message.

The councillor added that despite the pandemic adding additional duties of childcare, the advert lends itself to being “old fashioned”.

She said: “While it is certainly likely that most childcare and remote learning responsibilities are falling to women in the pandemic, the decision to remove men from any active childcare or housework depictions seems very old fashioned and out of touch. The campaign does neither men nor women many favours in its representations.”

Labour councillor Matt Dent, of Kursaal ward, said the poster shows a government which is “out of touch” with the lives of the British people.

He said: “When I saw this advert, I have to admit I thought it was a spoof to start with. The sexist connotations of depicting several domestic chores being done by all women, whilst the only man pictured lounges on a sofa, are almost too obvious to believe this is real. The overarching message that it gives is that this is a government out of touch with the lives of British people in 2021. We’re not in the 1950s anymore.”

He added that his message is clear to those in Government – think about the very people you are trying to communicate to.

Cllr Dent said: “I’m baffled that it ever got put out in the first place – the advert shouldn’t have had to be in a position that it got pulled. I do understand the urgency of the messages around coronavirus, but people still should be looking at these things with a critical eye before they enter the public domain. It is thoughtless rather than malicious, but it does speak of a subconscious sexist attitude. I do think we should expect better from the government in 2021.”

However, Southend Tory councillor Dan Nelson said pulling the advert was the correct way forward, but it should be taken into consideration that the Government is currently coping with a pandemic.

Mr Nelson said: “Fundamentally, the Government has made the right decision to pull it. Living by gender stereotypes is not ideal – it could have been a father, who was happily doing those things. On a marketing perspective, it was not the best (soundest) move but the government has pulled it and lessons will be learnt. The Government has a lot of their plate at the moment and an advert isn’t going to be at the top of their priorities – it’s an advert.”

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Angela Sharda

Local Democracy Reporter