The Dangerous World of Advertising
Advertisements are everywhere; we see them so often that people rarely stop and really look at them. Upon closer examination, one might be shocked at the sheer amount of violent and provocative imagery that we are exposed to. Although we often don’t notice it on a conscious level, research shows that this imagery is taking a toll on society. Women are experiencing unprecedented levels of body dissatisfaction, often leading to depression and eating disorders. Constant exposure to degrading and thin-ideal advertising has cultivated a dangerous environment for modern women.
Have you ever walked by a Victoria’s Secret, looked at one of the perfect women pictured on the glossy posters and thought to yourself: Why don’t I look like that? Chances are, you have, and it has probably happened to you in a lot of other, more unexpected places, too. Whether we consciously notice them or not, these advertisements are everywhere and according to author Jean Kilbourne, they are taking a huge toll on women in our society. The exploitation of a woman’s insecurities has become a marketing tool, with advertising companies often only using women in ads who embody the thin ideal and satisfy a very narrow idea of beauty. This, paired with the use of violent imagery in advertisements and the media have cultivated a culture of
women who are filled with insecurities and fear. In Kilbourne’s article “’Two Ways A Woman Can Get Hurt’: Advertising and Violence” the author examines these advertisements and their unsettling effects on women and society as a whole. Kilbourne argues that advertisements containing violence toward women can result in the degradation of women involving real-life harassment and physical brutality, as well as the equally dangerous effects on women themselves, such as a lowered sense of self-worth or even self-harm.
Jean Kilbourne is the author of this article, which is actually an excerpt from her book: Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising. In the preface preceding the article, the textbook authors introduce her as “Jean Kilbourne, EdD, is an award winning author and educator who is best known for her lively campus lectures on the effects of media images on young people” (Greene and Lidinsky 489). Kilbourne is the paragon of trustworthy authors because not only is she extremely well-educated, she is also passionate about this subject. Her passion drove her to take action and this action has since accumulated into several films and books, as well as many articles over the years, and she is often invited to speak at universities about her findings. Clearly, Kilbourne is both passionate and educated, both in general, and in this specific field, and this alone could persuade readers to take her findings seriously.
Kilbourne’s motivation to write is one that many women can relate to. The feeling that you are being judged solely on how you look, rather than your intelligence, talent, or work is incredibly frustrating. When Kilbourne chose to write about this subject, this unfairness was impacting her life in a very negative way. Though Kilbourne was an intelligent and highly educated woman by this point in her career, Kilbourne found that she was “rewarded more for her looks than performance” and thus was having trouble building her career in the academic
community (490). When thinking about the life of an academic, it is easy to see why a person’s reputation would be very important. In order to be successful, an academic must be published and respected; it would be difficult to gain respect, let alone be published successfully if an academic were judged solely on the way they look. Not only would this be harrowing in a professional sense, it would also be difficult for a woman to value herself if society made her feel that her only value was her appearance. When the opportunity to merge her passionate interest in this subject and her professional life arose she took it and has since produced a sizeable body of work on this issue.
Kilbourne’s motivation for writing this article was to persuade advertising companies to change their ways. She argues throughout her essay that these issues of devaluing women are rooted in advertisements. It is clear that Kilbourne was trying to highlight the evil aspects of advertising in her writing because she consistently used upsetting examples and used advertisements that were clearly offensive and inappropriate. One such advertisement features a young girl in a perfume ad with the caption “Apply generously to your neck so he can smell the scent as you shake your head ‘no’,” providing such examples makes it clear that Kilbourne is disgusted by some of the advertisements in circulation (Kilbourne 494). Kilbourne also wrote this article in order to make people more aware of the images they are viewing so regularly. Even when media is not digested on a conscious level, it have been shown to affect us subconsciously and can influence our behavior and attitudes. Often when we view these advertisements, we do so in passing and do not question their contents, but Kilbourne asserts that “We believe we are not affected by these images but most of us experience visceral shock when we pay cautious attention to them” (497). By making her readers more aware of the dangerous and suggestive
nature of some advertisements, they will be less susceptible to internalizing them absent-mindedly and accepting their contents without scrutiny.
The audience Kilbourne was primarily trying to reach is women. While men need to be made aware of advertisements as well, women are the ones who Kilbourne intended to put on high alert. Throughout her writing, Kilbourne warns women against advertisements and men who have internalized some of the more violent advertisements, taking a stance that at some points in her writing, takes on an almost meandrous tone. In her essay, Kilbourne begins warning women against men in general, reminding readers that many women are compelled to carry pepper spray, whistles and Mace to protect themselves while men are not (500). These constant warnings against men are what make it so clear that Kilbourne’s intended audience is, in fact, women, not men. Kilbourne also uses the words “us” and “our” frequently when she talks about women, which gives the impression that Kilbourne is trying to create a feeling of unity among women reading the article. This along with Kilbourne’s warnings against men may give a female reader the sense that Kilbourne is trying to protect them, which makes her writing very persuasive.
Kilbourne makes it clear through her writing that she had experiences that relate to this topic. Throughout her essay, she portrays the struggles she has faced throughout her life, and these serve as proof to her experience in this area. When Kilbourne was first beginning her career, she found that her body and appearance were being valued more than the actual work she was doing (Greene and Lidinsky 489). In addition to this specific life experience, Kilbourne also gained a deep understanding of the objectification and treatment of women, simply by being a woman. While a man could write about this topic convincingly, women lend a unique, first-hand perspective to this topic. Similarly, they can relate more to the victims of objectification and
violence which makes the author more empathetic to the problem. Lastly, women can verify the effects of advertising by comparing them to their own experiences, which is something men could not do. Therefore, because she is a woman, and has experienced objectification first-hand Kilbourne could persuade her audience more effectively.
The combined use of Kilbourne’s personal story and the stories of others connects her to her audience through the use of pathos. One very persuasive aspect of Kilbourne’s article was her inclusion of real-life accounts of the abuse women have suffered. In a very powerful and convincing portion of Kilbourne’s essay, she described the traumatic events that young girls have gone through at the hands of young boys. She describes a situation in which a fifth-grade boy sexually assaulted one of his peers, in another example she describes a situation in which a high-schooler was dragged by her arms so her classmates could look up her skirt, and finally how a sixteen-year-old girl was digitally raped and committed suicide (507-508). These examples are clearly extremely upsetting, but they are not uncommon; almost everyone knows a woman who has suffered abuse whether it be verbal, physical or psychological. Hearing the stories of these young girls who have suffered persuades the audience to rally around Kilbourne’s point that these acts of violence are unacceptable. As the beginning of the article stated, Kilbourne has suffered some of the negative effects of being a woman, and while they may not seem as distressing as physical abuse, it still gives her perspective and first-hand experience which could persuade the reader to take her writing more seriously.
Throughout her article, Kilbourne’s tone, while powerful, persuasive, and assertive, was also sensitive and protective. Kilbourne made her sensitivity apparent to the audience when she stated “High school and junior high school have always been hell for those who were different in any way”, while this is a simple statement, it proved that Kilbourne is attuned to the struggles of
not only those she wrote about, but to those of the people reading her writing (507). Furthermore, her copious warnings and her concern for other women show the reader that Kilbourne wants to protect them from the dangers created by advertisements. All of this combined gives Kilbourne a strong persuasive ethos because she shows her audience that she understands the struggles they may have gone through and makes her good character traits more apparent.
This article was published in 1999; although this may seem like a long time ago, this article is still all too relevant. Most of the issues discussed in this article still have not been resolved; women are still objectified, still hurt physically and emotionally, advertisements are still using suggestive and violent imagery. This issue was not by any means new when this article was published, either. Women have historically been taken advantage of and their attempts at power squashed. When Kilbourne experienced objectification firsthand in 1960, and while women are somewhat better off now, Kilbourne’s writing can serve as a reminded to the reader that we still have a long way to go before women are no longer objectified (Greene and Lidinsky 490).
This article reveals something very upsetting about our culture: We value business and money more than human beings. Advertisers surely know that suggestive and violent advertisements are having negative effects on women, and people in general, but this system is lucrative, and it has withstood the test of time, so they have yet to stop. Kilbourne expresses this, writing “Sex in advertising is more often about disconnection and distance than connection and closeness. It is also more often about power than passion, about violence than violins” and while this may not sound dangerous, the fact that these tactics are so effective prove that we as a culture devalue other human lives and crave power (491). Revealing this throughout her writing was a persuasive strategy for Kilbourne because most readers can relate to being disgruntled by
the greed of big corporations and the feeling that money is seen as more important than people. Furthermore, it persuades the audience to take Kilbourne’s claim that advertisements are dangerous more seriously.
In summation, Kilbourne used a wide variety of persuasion tactics to get her audience to understand and agree with her views. Her overall goals of revealing the evil of advertising companies and making women aware of them were clear throughout her writing. Kilbourne built her argument using irrefutable proof in the form of real advertisements and real-life accounts of violence toward women. She engaged the reader using ethos, logos, and pathos, all of which made the reader more likely to agree with her ideas. Overall, Kilbourne carefully constructed a case against advertising companies, and any reader is likely to agree with her views after reading her article.