Jean Kilbourne’s film Killing Us Softly 3 accompanied by her presentation of the film clearly shows how the media “perpetuates rigid and narrow conceptualizations of masculinity and femininity to uphold patriarchy”.
Kilbourne gives multiple examples in her film that show that “advertising is the foundation of the mass media and that the foundation of the mass media is to sell products”. She states that advertising “tells us what we are and who we should be” but the trouble with this is advertising tells us that “what is most important about women is how we look” while men aren’t held to this standard. Because of advertising women feel that “if we aren’t beautiful or think or successful it is because we aren’t trying enough”. Of course, it is practically impossible to be as beautiful as the women seen throughout the media as that type of woman makes up only 5% of the population which really hit home when the statistic was given that “there are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and 8 who do”. Yet, it seems that constantly everywhere we turn the American population is bombarded with advertisements. She showed ads that said that innocence is sexy and that the more you subtract the more you ad, how are these ads supposed to make women feel? Almost all the ads with females use white upper class women to sell the products. Everything is so contradictory to the way life and real women actually are, it just doesn’t seem fare.
The comparison of males and females in the media are astonishing also. It shocked me that in the March 1999 issue of parenting every single issue featured active boys and passive girls. If parents don’t seem to realize this is happening the children certainly aren’t going to understand that anything is wrong with these pictures. One part in the film when she compared the ad for female breasts and men’s genitals I actually laughed out loud, it was funny, but it also made me slightly disgusted with how society is today. There never would be an ad like the ad she made up that talked about men that way, but it happens all the time with women. Women are expected to meet almost impossible standards and it truly does make sense why young female women have such low self-esteem and almost 1 in 5 have an eating disorder. Even when I was watching the ads, and seeing all of these extremely thin women, I actually thought to myself, “Guess I should hit the gym”. It should not be like that for us but it is.
It was also interesting to note the way women of color were portrayed in the media. They are often shown as “animals and over and over again the real message is that they are not really human”. Unfortunately, turning a human being “into a thing is almost the first step into making violence acceptable” and turning her into an “object” makes it even worse.
I will say that some forms of media are taking a step to make advertisements more diverse and to eliminate the sexism, racism and cultural portrayal in the media. The Special K advertisement did a good job of this, and I was surprised that I had not seen it before. The Dove commercials, with the Dove beauty campaign also show women as “real women” with “real bodies”. In the end, whether we are conscious or not of the media, the subliminal messages and attitudes deeply affect us. As Kilbourne said, we have the right to live “authentically and freely chosen lives, nothing else.” Yet, to be truly able to do live our lives freely we need to wake up and not stand for the way the media depicts men and women in advertisements because it makes it seem like it is okay, when in actuality, this could not be farther from truth.