Viennese Centre for Complaints against Sexist Advertising

Advertising messages are often conveyed by means of graphic sexist representations, which downplay violence and make use of prejudices. The bodies of semi-naked women lounging about, men donning Cowboy boots and belts with gun holsters to name just a few examples. The newly formed Viennese advertising watchgroup is fighting against role models and clichés.

Logo for "" with german text "Initiative gegen Sexismus in der Werbung"

True to the familiar motto "sex sells", the advertising world still likes to use erotic motifs to attract attention and to increase sales revenue. In order to give the people of Vienna a possibility to submit complaints the red-green municipal government has now founded a "watchgroup" against sexist advertising.

Not a question of aesthetics

"Day in, day out we are confronted with sexist representations of women on every street corner, in every magazine and on TV. These images are carried over into the daily interaction between the sexes. Sexist advertising is thus no question of taste or of aesthetics but rather one that has detrimental consequences on society as a whole," as Sandra Frauenberger, city councillor for women issues explains.

Clichés are consolidated

Advertising not only fuels consumer needs, it also conveys values, presenting behavioural patterns and offering orientation. It employs cultural signs that can be easily understood and actively shapes our social and individual perception of life and our body. Traditional images of women - as for instance that of the maternal figure and the advertisement of the subordinate servant are contrasted with men driven by drives and wielding power and influence in their role as experts and conquerors of nature. Advertising usually conveys ideals of beauty, images of the body, lifestyles that cannot be attained and drives people to excessive diets, surgical interventions and consumption of anabolic substances with the sole goal of being able to do justice to ideal images.

Breaking stereotypes

Already in primary school it is possible to erode a positive sense of self-value and body feeling. "We would like to break stereotype role models. We are creating an environment which promotes and supports girls - by questioning and overturning conventional gender role models and by making inroads into domains that up until now were traditionally male," as Monika Vana, the municipal councillor of Vienna´s green party says, stressing the educational aspect of the watchgroup.

For more sanction and control possibilities

The goal is not just to create an awareness for the subject. City councillor Frauenberger would also like to see legal regulation with corresponding sanctioning and monitoring possibilities. At present the Austrian Advertising Council is responsible for all forms of discrimination in the entire country but it sees itself only as an organization for "self-control of the advertising industry". "For me it is inacceptable that the dignity of women is being constantly violated, that they are denigrated and sexualized for economic interests," as the city councillor puts it.

Letter templates making it easy to submit a complaint

Complaints about sexist advertising can be submitted to A group of experts then evaluates them on the basis of a detailed list of criteria, using the Graz Watchdog as a model, to see whether the ad, the poster, the commercial or the radio commercial is sexist and then publishes the evaluation on the home page. The list which can also be accessed online lists recent examples that illustrate the broad spectrum of sexist motifs. "We expect a strong and active participation of the population. Thanks to an active public it will be possible to bring about a change in the trend going beyond the confines of advertising among consumers, media makers and creative workers," as Dr. Ulli Weish, media scholar and member of the advertising watchgroup has asserted.


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