Today, I went to a film presented by the Gender and Women's Study program for my Social Justice Event. There were only 2 people that came to view the film, including myself. This documentary was entitled "Killing Us Softly 4." It focused on the work of Jean Kilbourne, a long-time critic of media advertising. Kilbourne advocates for the just representation of women in the media, calling for an end to the harsh messages being sent to the public, especially girls and women. The film was about 45 minutes long and it focused on unpacking advertisements to convey the underlying messages and motives designed to dehumanize and objectify women. I was shocked at the extent of many advertisements described in this film. I feel like I have been manipulated to value these ideals through seeing these advertisements. It worries me that young girls are exposed to these unreachable ideals, which leads to so many mental and physical illnesses. I feel empowered after seeing this to start criticizing media and advertising more to expose these hidden messages.
All of us are bombarded with media advertising; the average person sees over 3,000 ads a day. While many people say they just ignore these unavoidable advertisements, the film explained that only 8% of the ad's message is processed consciously. Therefore, 92% of the messages are received subconsciously, where they influence us incredibly in our everyday lives. Advertisements stress the importance of beauty, youthfulness, and sexualization among all humans and objects, but most especially women. These advertisements cause girls and women to strive for flawlessness, which ultimately cannot be achieved. It actuality, the majority of photographs and images presented by the media are comprised of four to five women's bodies combined to form a "perfected" image of a women. Women and girls are subjected to these harsh messages that they are only valued for their appearance and body. They compare themselves to these photoshopped images, which can create low self-esteem, unrealistic body ideals, and eating disorders.
Our society values light-skin, blue-eyes, straight hair, sexuality, and extreme thinness. Many times in advertising, dark-skinned models are photoshopped to appear lighter-skinned and thin models are photoshopped to look thinner. Women are often turn into objects, which dehumanizes their value. Women are especially objectified as sexual beings created for men's pleasure. Women and girls are scrutinized by these advertisements, where they are placed in passive, vulnerable positions, while men are depicted as strong, confident. Men are not free from these hidden messages and objectification though. They are taught that they need to be tough, strong, insensitive, and masculine. However, they do not face the same harshness or consequences that women do. Popular culture teaches girls to aspire to, in a sense, disappear into nothing, the evidence being the fairly recent creation of sizes 0 and 00. Even more disgusting is the contempt and ridicule women face when they do not have this ideal body shape or appearance.
Kilbourne says that until we face the facts, nothing can be done about these dehumanizing messages and advertisements. In order to change the system, we must be aware of the situation, pay attention to the messages being sent, and realize that this is a public health problem that affects us all in a negative way. We need to change our environment by encouraging media literacy and critiquing advertisements and the media. We must show the advertisers that we are firstly citizens, not consumers. Our ability to have freely-lived, authentic lives depends on us taking a stand against this injustice. While I was watching this film, I saw many connections to the texts that we have read in class. Three texts that I think connect strongly with this film are Lisa Delpit's article, "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children," Peggy McIntosh's article, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," and Linda Christenson's article, "Unlearning the Myths that Bing Us."
Delpit explains the "culture of power" in her article. She gives five dimensions of this culture of power by explaining that there are rules or codes that define this power system. "The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power. If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier. Those with power are frequently least aware of - or least willing to acknowledge - it's existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence"(24). These aspects define the culture of power. This is related to the advertising practices that are based on the culture of power present in our society. The rules for participating in the advertising world are based on thin, attractive, light-skinned, passive women. These codes are a reflection of what our society values - SCWAAMP - straight, white, able bodiedness, and maleness. These are all attractive qualities in our culture of power and these are subjected in media advertising. Sexual objectification (in straight couples), light skin, men, and thin able bodied humans are portrayed in these advertisements because this is what our society deems good. Teaching media literacy, or being told explicitly the rules of the culture of power, makes acquiring power easier by learning how to critique the hidden messages portrayed in these ads. Also, those who have these attractive qualities are least aware of its value to society. Those who do not have these qualities understand that they are not valued but are objects of ridicule.
Related to this is Peggy McIntosh's article where she explains, "Disapproving of the system won't be enough to change them"(6). Kilbourne stresses the same topic. Knowing about the messages of media advertising and claiming that one is against that idealized model is not enough to do anything. We must impose our beliefs on the advertisers by changing what we value in order to change our society. Also, McIntosh speaks about male privilege and white privilege in her article. She explains that while many know about the unfairness of our social system, those in power are not willing to give up their advantages. These privileges, as well as these advertisements, are influencing all our lives by keeping us in oblivious to the real issues. Being male and white gives one so many advantages, as seen in media advertising. Models are valued if they are light-skinned and if they are not, they are photoshopped to make their skin look lighter. Men are portrayed as strong and powerful, while woman are submissive and controllable to the man's desires. These privileges control media advertising and unless we change the power scale, it will just continue to just get worse.
Finally, Christenson's article sums this whole conversation up. The advertisements implied messages are the "secret education" that the media is instilling in us. In order to be aware of this secret education, we must teach and understand media literacy. Media advertisements "instructs young people to accept the world as it is portrayed in these social blueprints. And often that world depicts the domination of one sex, one race, or one country over a weaker counterpart" (126). We are influenced and manipulated by the images that we constantly see even if we don't believe it. "The stereotypes and worldview embed in the [advertisements] become accepted knowledge" (127). By becoming media literate, we can see the inequalities and unjust messages and understand that these stereotypes are not just. We must not be ignorant, but become aware of the "secret education" that we are receiving.