"Killing Us Softly 3" -- a summary

This 2000 video features Jean Kilbourne, who created two earlier versions of this examination of how women are portrayed as sex objects in media, especially advertising. There is at least one more recent version, "Killing Us Softly 4." See various clips on YouTube.

In each version Kilbourne examines what's the same and what's changed from the earlier versions, which illustrate how women are objectified and presented as sex objects -- a portrayal which, cumulatively and unconsciously, leads a society to think it is acceptable to commit violence against women.

She says over a $180 billion are now spent on advertising in the U.S. and the average person sees over 3,000 ads daily.

Yet, on the whole, we still feel we are personally exempt from their effect -- [this ties to the concept of DOUBLE THINK, which means to see through something with one part of the mind and yet blindly adhere to it with another part]

Kilbourne says that ads primarily sell products but also sell a view of sexuality and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be.

The image of how woman should look is a powerful one, and failure for women is inevitable because the beauty is flawless -- done by computer techniques, etc. Computer graphics can now generate a perfect real woman.

This kind of image cultivates a climate in which there can be widespread violence against women  -- not directly -- but as part of the climate.

Focusing on only a part of a woman tends to make one think of the woman as less than human (OBJECTIFICATION) is dehumanizing, and once a a group is dehumanized, it is easier to justify violence against group members. That is a first step to it being ok to be violent.

Sexism can certainly be linked to advertising (ex. Advertising Age editorial).

In advertising today, women are still dismembered -- just parts of them presented to sell a product. Kilbourne says in the imposed American obsession with breasts, uplifted derrieres, etc., women forget things like the sensation they lose when they have plastic surgery on their breasts.

Regardless, she says, breasts can never be ok -- society places so much emphasis on them that girls seem always to have their self-esteem plummet when they hit adolescence. Boys do not suffer in the same way.

Women exist in a world where their bodies are constantly judged -- and their worth depends on how they look. Only 5% of women have the body type that is idealized. They must be young, thin (models almost always have to have breast implants), and usually white.

The result, in part, is lots of contempt for those who are overweight.

An accompanying message is not to be too powerful.

One in five young women has an eating disorder, which comes in part from media images. The obsession with thinness [Kilbourne's video, "Thin Hopes," is available in the library) plays its part in cutting girls down to size and silencing them.

Sometimes the SILENCING (women being portrayed mainly as passive and vulnerable) in the images of how women are portrayed is presented visually, sometimes in the copy accompanying the ad.

Women of color are supposed to be especially silent.  The body language is passive and vulnerable.

Boys are supposed to be active; girls are supposed to be passive (examples even from Parenting Magazine in 1999).

But, if race enters the picture, then women have the power.


Women should be both innocent and sexy (little girl look). Young girls are presented as sex objects (example, Calvin Klein ad).

Kilbourne says the use of sex to sell everything is more pervasive than ever.

This is important because it results in little or no emphasis on relationships or intimacy.

(U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world.)

Kids are targeted with the trivialization of sex.

She says it is not surprising that violence results when bondage is used to sell such things as neckties and perfumes.

VIOLENCE IS INCREASING -- through approaches like the romantic stranger, violence is trivialized. It results in the message: women don't mean it when they say NO.

Lots of ads trivialize battery and show images of brutality (example, bitch skateboards, woman as foot rest)

WHAT HAS CHANGED -- more ads are now objectifying men too and this is MISINTERPRETED AS EQUALITY.  It is not, Kilbourne says, because men are not in danger of rape. [Note the parallel message in Tough Guise about how culture cultivates violence in males.]

Kilbourne says values which are considered to be feminine are devalued in men -- causes people to DEVALUE human traits like compassion, cooperation, nurturance and empathy. THIS DEHUMANIZES ALL OF US.

She says change needs to happen by striving for a NEW CULTURE, where the public is educated  and think of themselves as citizens, not consumers. What's at stake is an ability have an alternative -- freely chosen lives.[Note the similarity of this solution to Cultural Enviornment Movement discussed in lecture and to the content of older videos, such as "Consuming Images" and "Crisis of the Cultural Environment," or newer videos, such as "Killing Us Softly 4" and "Consuming Kids." ]

Updated 2012