Wednesday, June 22, 2011

That Time of the Month - Women in Advertisement

I first became aware of women in advertising when I watched Jean Kilbourne's series called Killing Us Softly. It is a four part series that deals with media's  portrayal of women. I wanted to share some of the ads I found when I googled the word women.The two glaring themes were violence and sex. You should try this google experiment - it will shock you. There is no question that women are daily sexualized in ads, movies, and t.v. shows. The question is what is this doing to our self image? Do we find ourselves limiting who we are based on media? There is so much more to being a woman than big boobs, a skinny waist, and a pretty face. 

This ad was pulled because it resembled a gang rape.
Who thought this was ok?

Overt oral sex reference.

We almost got pegged intellectual, but in
order to sell she needed to have her clothes

We must be complete idiots or the weakest of all human life.

There are no words.

Women belong on the floor?

We have to be pretty and put together
or no man will love us or want us.

In this ad she is equated
with being a servant.

Have women ever played Rugby in bikini bottoms and a scoop neck
shirt? Exactly

The men are playing an intellectual game.
The woman is playing a mindless game looking
like a prostitute, smiling like she has no

Resembles a rape scene

Kilbourne talks in her series
about women of color being
portrayed as animals,
something exotic
to be conquered.

I didn't even include some of the more violent ads.Women are universally hypersexualized. I didn't come across one ad that promoted women as intelligent, athletic, tender, or strong ( not dominant).   These are qualities of everyday women and we rarely see them in advertisement. Why? Who are these ad agencies selling to? What do these ads tell me as a woman?  They imply that I am worthless, except for sexually satisfying men.  I am simply a vehicle for pleasure.  I am not a person with thoughts, ideas or value.  I am certainly not capable of engaging men in real conversation.

It is painful for me to think how prevalent these ads are for young women growing up today.  Young girls, who are remarkably aware and impressionable, are shown that their value is in their sexuality.  Trying to fit into the mold of what it means to be a woman, their intelligence and creativity is rarely championed.  There is no wonder that women do not believe they are men's equal.

My question, then, is how do we fight against this constant tide of degradation?  Do we boycott advertisers who demean women?  Would we ever be able to purchase the products we need if we did?  Or do we support companies, like Dove, who champion women for who they are in their variety of shapes and sizes?

It is a complex topic that can be easily dismissed due to the fact that advertisement is EVERYWHERE we look. There is something to be said for being aware of the images and making a conscious effort to remind ourselves what is true of women.
How do you think advertisement affects the way you see yourself?


  1. wow. seeing all of these in a row is really intense. i feel like when i see one add by itself, i'm much more likely to dismiss it... but seeing them all together (and knowing there are tons more) makes it almost unbearable. so disappointing...

  2. Definitely an intense post, but you raise a really important topic. My question is how much do these ads shape our perceptions of gender compared to how much our culture's perceptions of gender shape what successfully sells? Of course they feed off of each other, but it is disturbing to think that these ads are not only acceptable, but also that these are the ads that focus groups and market research suggested will be most effective in moving a product.

    I think the Google image experiment you suggest is a great indicator of what people are looking for when they search "women." I tried it, and the sexual imagery is overwhelming, and violent images are also present.

    As hypersexualization in advertising is so prominent, I don't know how I could possibly single out each and every perpetrator to boycott. But I can be intentional with particularly heinous pieces, such as Dolce and Gabbana. Unfortunately, I don't think they will feel it too much as I've never purchased one of their products before.

  3. Rachel, one of my major grad school research projects was on sexuality and the media. I wish I could find a copy of it to send to you. I first had to define what I meant by sexuality and then determine if males or females were more of a target for sexually explicit ads, etc. I'm sure the results would not surprise you.

    As far as how it makes me feel as a woman, it is a constant battle to remind myself that I am valued and attractive and worthwhile in a society where the lies being shouted from all forms of media are often hard to quiet. I want to raise strong, confident, beautiful daughters who know their worth does not wax and wane based on what others say. It will be a challenge, no doubt.

    You are talented and intelligent. Kind and compassionate. Strong and lovely. I am glad you are my friend.

    The photos you asked about were taken using Instagram. The filters I use most are Earlybird, Hefe, X-Pro II and sometimes Nashville.

    Wish we were together drinking something delicious and chattin' it up in person...

  4. ps... Love the new look to your blog. Your picture makes me happy every time. How did you do that?!