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Fun or faux pas? Düsseldorf hairdresser rebuked for 'sexist' advertisement

What a Düsseldorf hair salon claims is "just fun," the German Advertising Council has deemed "sexist." In the world of advertising, where do you draw the line?

On Düsseldorf's busy Friedrichstrasse, if someone isn't laughing at the advert outside "Wüster & Friends" hair salon, someone else is taking a photo of it, salon director Catrin Wüster told DW.

Depicted in the advert is a woman from behind, apparently only wearing underwear. Seen between her legs is a man, looking up from his laptop, with the caption "New hairdo, love?"

Following a complaint from a member of the public, Germany's Advertising Council deemed the poster sexist. According to the council's guidelines, "in commercial advertising ... no statements or representations can be used which reduce a person to their sexuality or suggest their sexual availability."

"If the poster were advertising lingerie, it might be different," said Anne Grote, spokeswoman for the Advertising Council.

"But here, the woman's body is used purely as an eye-catcher," Grote added, which, in her opinion, "is a violation of the industry rules."

'Completely ridiculous'

Wüster told DW, however, that catching the eye of clients is exactly what the poster does best. After almost nine years in use, the advert remains one of their most successful marketing campaigns.

Dr. Stevie Schmiedel

Director of protest organization 'Pinkstinks' Dr. Stevie Schmiedel

"The complaint to the Advertising Council is completely ridiculous," she said, adding that the advert was "merely fun."

"If we didn't have any other problems in the world, then perhaps I could understand a little better," Wüster said, "But we have more important issues to be dealing with."

Gender equality the bigger picture

Dr. Stevie Schmiedel, director of protest organization "Pinkstinks," told DW, however, that simply claiming a sexist advert is "fun or ironic" doesn't stop it being sexist.

"There's also a difference between sexy and sexist," Schmiedel said. "If a poster is advertising underwear or swimwear, a woman wearing exactly that is completely acceptable. But if it's advertising something completely unrelated, then it's a problem."

'Modern gender image'

Social Democrat (SPD) and German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called earlier this year for a complete ban on sexist ads. According to German magazine "Der Spiegel" Maas' goal was to create a "modern gender image."

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has called for a ban on sexist ads

Maas' idea, "Spiegel" reported, was also motivated by the sexual attacks against hundreds of women in Cologne on New Year's Eve.

Six months on, "Pinkstinks" director Schmiedel told DW that having collaborated with the organization, the SPD faction of the Bundestag - Germany's lower house of parliament - hopes to put more pressure on the German Advertising Council over the next two years.

"From summer 2017, the Justice Ministry and the Ministry for Family Affairs will be observing the Council," she said, adding that there will be stricter consequences for anyone failing to abide by the guidelines.

Gender equality: the bigger picture

"Under the measures, members of the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (ZAV) failing to comply with the guidelines will face a fine if they refuse to take down an advert," Schmiedel said.

Companies who aren't a member of the ZAV, however, will be penalized with a denouncement from the Advertising Council in the press.

If the Advertising Council fails to meet the SPD's expectations over the two-year surveillance period, the faction will return to negotiating the legislation, previously proposed by Justice Minister Maas, Schmiedel said.

The former lecturer in Gender Studies continued: "This isn't about whether an advert is offending one particular person or not. It's all part of addressing the bigger picture of how women are regarded in society."

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