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Ali Hanan: Cannes Lions predicts a sexually inclusive future without binary gender norms

By Ali Hanan, Co Founder

July 3, 2019 | 4 min read

Did you spot a seismic shift at the Cannes Lions festival? It’s there, in the work. This is the changing face of gender identity and sexual inclusion, being defined by the push for progress from the LGBTQ+ community across the globe.

Cannes Lions Creative Equals panel

From the left: Uglow, Hanan, Mendelson, Sears, Classen and Dhunna. / Ali Hanan

Marketers and brands are finally throwing out gender norms. Work is no longer constrained by traditional gender boundaries or heteronormative families. Some of the winners of the Cannes Lions ‘Glass’ work are blazing a smoking trail for how this is done, with Project #ShowUs by Dove with Getty Images – second Silver winner – featuring non-binary people alongside self-identifying women.

In other Glass Lions work, Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ ad featured female athlete Caster Semenya, and Gillette’s ad ‘First Shave’ put a trans man in the spotlight – a groundbreaking moment.

Most notably was a Bronze by Copenhagen Pride and Virtue Copenhagen for ‘The Genderless Voice’. The fact is most voice assistants available, such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, are female and have been cited by a UN report this year for perpetuating stereotypies, portraying woman as subservient.

The Unesco paper criticised voice-powered devices for making women seem "obliging, docile and eager-to-please helpers". While male alternatives are available, this genderless voice embraces a new generation of gender identity – and one without the baggage of stereotypes, because this is where ‘Generation Alpha’ are moving.

See it, search it

Image analysis at Getty Images concurs: the globe’s creatives and marketers are seeking LGBTQ+ images, with more than a 100% increase in some areas. According to Kylie Taylor, senior director and head of corporate communications at the company, searches for ‘gender change’ imagery are up by 2,100%.

Searches on ‘queer’ are up by 178%, ‘transsexual,’ by 125% and ‘same sex’ family searches by 167%.

“Younger generations are moving out of gender binaries and are looking for brands to understand this," said Asad Dhunna, founder of The Unmistakables.

"Sexual inclusion in advertising needs to go beyond showing same sex couples in heteronormative situations and to start showing the nuance of what it means to be LGBTQ+ on a deeper level."

It’s time, however, for creative businesses to recognise the complexities of gender and sexuality when it comes to LGBTQ+ staff.

Tea Uglow, creative director of Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney, Australia, says: ‘Having worked as a traditional cis white hetero male CD with stubble and as a trans white queer female CD with eyeliner, I feel on safer ground than most to compare the challenges that face both. Nothing is simple: I also transitioned with the privilege of my career to date, and I know I would never have made it this far in my career without the privilege of ten years in the industry, of being enabled to be pushy, difficult, obstreperous, needy and demanding - and for all of those to be indulged as ‘creative’ or ‘leadership’ roles in a man when in a woman they are simply not acceptable.

“I am conscious that were it not for the added privilege of being wealthy, well-educated, well-spoken and at Google, I would not have the opportunity to write this. This Cannes has made me aware of the hidden privileges we assume are less harmful than the visible prejudices, and of quite how far we have to go to burst our own bubble of self-importance.”

‘Now is the time to step up and smash the stereotypes, particularly given how the gender identity and sexual inclusion will shape the future of creativity,’ says Owen Lee, chief creative officer, FCB Inferno London.

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