Feminism | Posted by Rinckey R on 02/20/2012

Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly”

Jean Kilbourne

As Grand Rapids, Michigan yawned good morning at 7:45 am and the sun began blinking hello, I sat in my human sexuality and relationships class, watching one of the best videos I have ever seen in an academic setting. I strongly recommend that each and every one of you watch Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly 4”.

As an advocate for women’s rights, I found this video very compelling and inspirational. It describes the advertising business and its push for narrowly defined sexuality, materialism, and the objectification of women.

The funny thing is that I have always been infatuated with the glossy covers of Cosmo, Glamour, and Vogue. There was something so undeniably glamorous and appealing to me about these magazines and the flirty techniques they promoted. I even used to wallpaper my bedroom with different ads and the like from those pages.

I think it’s about time I take those down.

As stated by Jean Kilbourne, these ads send subliminal message, and women are still considered to be objects, even despite the efforts of feminists today. Kilbourne does a wonderful job of giving examples and presenting visual aids to illustrate her position.

The worst part of what I gathered from this video, though, is that some women want to be perceived as things. Not directly, of course. Ask any girl out there – “So how would you feel about being compared to a piece of meat?” and she’d probably slap you in the face. But essentially any woman who is presenting herself based on the images she’s seen in the media is basically allowing the comparison to manifest with her permission.

Take the idea of breast implants, for example. Sure, you might feel more proportional or sexy with those set of DD’s, but who are you really setting out to please? Probably not yourself. Show of hands here: how many of you actually know that by surgically enhancing your chest, you are actually reducing the amount of stimulation? Yeah. Therefore, you are quite literally making yourself an object for the guy’s pleasure.

If there is anything I feel strongly about, it is issues like these. Whether you want to believe it or not, women today are still undervalued and underrepresented, but a critical problem is that my sex is allowing itself to be recognized in this matter. Look at all of the magazines with the frighteningly thin girls. This too is a demonstration of how women are eager to cut themselves down to size. The literal minimization of their bodies parallels the belittling of their importance in civilization.

Until more women stand up for themselves and tell the world that they are worth more, this issue will not be resolved. If we as a culture and society continue to promote shows like America’s Next Top Model, Desperate Housewives, Toddlers and Tiaras, etc., then the entire feminist movement will have been in vain. Women will never be appreciated until they start earning respect for themselves.

The videos of the film can be found here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). If you disagree with me, please please please at least take the time to watch this, even if you just skim. I promise it’ll be worth your while.

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  • lizzie @ at 2:13 pm, February 20th, 2012

    I love your insights into this! I saw the same video (perhaps it was Killing Us Softly 3, but her theory hasn’t changed) when i was a sophomore in high school, precisely four years ago. It revolutionized my life, igniting a desire to study gender, society, and fight for feminism is radically more powerful and articulate ways than i had before. Glad to share in this with you!

  • trc @ at 7:30 pm, February 20th, 2012

    yes . yes . yes
    imo everyone* needs to watch Jean Killbourne.
    and your insight is spot-on.
    ( i discovered & watched J.K. last year – indeed everything i found by her on the web. and i find her e.g. brilliant, insightful andandand. will watch her again. as in “keep your tools sharp & keen” ;)

  • Kristen A @ at 9:17 pm, February 20th, 2012

    I’m completely with you except for three points you make in your post:

    1.”But essentially any woman who is presenting herself based on the images she’s seen in the media is basically allowing the comparison to manifest with her permission.”

    -I really wish there wasn’t an attitude that women who dress like women in magazine ads aren’t thinking independently and dressing that way because they actually do like it. I won’t use anecdotal evidence to prove a point, but I just have to disagree that should I choose to imitate a look I see in a mag that I am giving anyone permission to compare me to an inanimate object.

    2. “Sure, you might feel more proportional or sexy with those set of DD’s, but who are you really setting out to please? Probably not yourself.”

    -All women are real women, even those who make the very personal decision to get plastic surgery. We can discuss to high heaven the topic of plastic surgery, but how can anyone set a qualifying reason to have procedures done?

    3. “Look at all of the magazines with the frighteningly thin girls.”

    -Please, please, please don’t make this about the models. Honestly, they’re doing a job and aren’t responsible for the editing that occurs afterwards. I work as a model, the majority of us actually ARE naturally tall and slender and we all have different shapes. Every time I see an awesome feminist post that contains statements about how models are “scary skinny” it makes me feel very alienated.

    Aside from that, excellent post with good insight, I love JK and have often used her work for examples in various university projects.

  • Emily @ at 2:21 pm, February 21st, 2012

    Thank you for believing in the power of young women. I have to contribute this one thought: It is not so much the women on the covers of magazines that hurt our fair sex as much as the women who act in ways that allow the other sex to view us as objects. Unless and until, we eradicate such things as strip clubs, pornography and casual sex, women will always be viewed as objects.

  • Deanna @ at 2:57 pm, February 21st, 2012

    You would also enjoy “Miss Representation!”


  • Kristen A @ at 12:25 am, February 22nd, 2012

    @Emily: Eliminate casual sex? That’s sarcasm right?

  • Brainwashing « thefeministblogproject @ at 10:07 pm, February 22nd, 2012

    […] http://thefbomb.org/2012/02/jean-kilbournes-killing-us-softly/ […]

  • Renee @ at 4:39 pm, February 23rd, 2012

    I LOVE the Killing us Softly series! It was this and my love of advertising that introduced me to Feminism. But I agree with Kristen that some of the things you said were problematic.
    Kristen’s 1): This sounds awfully victim blamy a woman should be able to wear what she wants w/o expecting to be treated like less of a human.
    Kristen’s 2): Not all implants are DDs and saying that just makes you sound pretty ignorant. The reasons why a woman would want to alter their body could be just as complex as that woman.

  • Anna @ at 7:37 pm, February 23rd, 2012

    @ Renee,
    Re-read Kristen’s comment. She was quoting the article then responding to it below. You seem to have only seen the quotes.

  • Lorraine @ at 9:21 am, February 24th, 2012

    YES and YES! I’m thrilled that you discovered Jean Kilbourne and that you have decided to take down all those silly magazines! I wish those magazines didn’t exist! I wish women didn’t buy them. I wish women didn’t spend millions of dollars on physical appearance. I wish women spent more time becoming better people, working for peace in the world and helping the poor and the destitute. Let us arise and be dignified human beings working for something truly worthwhile!

  • Renee @ at 9:45 am, February 25th, 2012

    @Anna I’m aware of that but since I was on my phone it was really hard to copy and paste and since Kristen’s points were pretty much the exact same as my points I just used her examples. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

  • Anna @ at 9:00 pm, February 25th, 2012

    I get it now. Good points.

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