I was watching a brilliant lecture series by Jean Kilbourne over the weekend called Killing Us Softly which deals with the treatment of women in advertising. Kilbourne raises many fascinating points, but one that really stuck with me was her dissection of sex in the advertising industry.
Specifically, Kilbourne said that the way advertisers reduce women to mere sexual objects fits perfectly into the misogynistic “lad culture” that works to encourage violence against women.
It’s a sad fact of modern life that the best way to sell something is through sex. It doesn’t matter what your product is. It could be a car, deodorant or even french fries.
It’s also a sad fact of life that the vast majority of this objectification is aimed at women. Of course, this isn’t new and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks differently.
However, as Kilbourne points out, the problem may be worse than we originally suspected.
One of Kilbourne’s biggest complaints with advertising is the way that women’s bodies are “dismembered”, that is: how advertisers only ever use part of a woman’s body to sell a product, most often the breasts or the butt.
What this does, says Kilbourne, is not only turn women’s bodies into things, but parts of things.
It’s this extreme act of dehumanisation plays right into the culture of misogyny that encourages violence against women.
“Turning a human being into a thing,” she says, “is almost always the first step in justifying violence against that person.”
In contrast, men’s bodies are almost never dismembered in advertising. Men are given full-body shots or, at the very least, we are allowed to see their faces.
The message is clear: men are real people with personalities while women are objects designed for the sole purpose of pleasuring men, which I’m sure you all agree is pretty messed up.
I could go on forever about the many other ways that advertising harms women, from the promotion of impossible beauty to the enforcement of patriarchal gender roles, but I’m sure you get the idea.
If this is to change, we as consumers will need to stand up and hold advertising agencies accountable for the content they produce. As long as this kind of thing continues to be profitable, there is no incentive to change.
This article from Cracked isn’t really about advertising, but it does raise some brilliant points about the treatment of women in pop culture.
I found these ads after not even a minute of searching. They are a perfect example of the way advertising turns women into nothing but objects.