Last year, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, moved to ban ads that promote unrealistic expectations of body image from the city’s transport network. He was both praised and blamed for the move, with some saying it was great to stop that kind of sexist imagery being blasted at commuters, while others said it was an infringement on the right to free speech and expression.
Now, Berlin is looking to ban “sexist ads” from billboards in the city. It was a campaign promise by the Social Democrat-Left Party-Green Party coalition, and headlines report that the moves means that advertisements featuring “dumb but beautiful women” will be banned. Other ads that will be banned include those that show women as “weak, hysterical, dumb, insane, naive, or completely controlled by their emotions,” and where “a woman is barely dressed and smiling without reason, while a man is completely and comfortably clothed.”
An “expert panel” will decide whether an ad is sexist or just sexy.
It’s definitely interesting to see what a political party considers sexist and worthy of being banned, and to see the moves being taken around the world to curb sexism. Two years ago, I would have lauded this move, the way I lauded many of Barack Obama’s executive orders. Now, I’m not so sure.
This move would certainly have some consequences that I’d personally appreciate, but what happens when we lay down the precedent of a government banning messages that it feels are bad for society? What happens when a Donald Trump or a Narendra Modi take up an office where they’re allowed to ban the messages that they see fit to ban? It’s becoming increasingly clear that we have to be cautious, wary and far-sighted when dealing with our rights, and it feels like a sound investment to let any government know that they can’t touch any of them, not now, not ever.