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    Drawing Connections Between Advertising and Social Problems

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    In Jean Kilbourne’s essay “ ‘Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt’: Advertising and Violence,” she claims that the depiction of women in advertising constitutes “cultural abuse.” What she means by this is that advertisements have a hidden message to them. This hidden message being repression of sexuality whether it be men or women. Ads continue to bring about a certain influence and they encourage such problems, however, they aren’t necessarily the cause of social problems. To prove these claims, Kilbourne draws connections between advertisements and social problems such as sexual violence, harassment, and addiction. She does this with her stylistic writing style, where she describes the advertisements and then analyzes the effect they have on the viewers of the ad. By doing this, she draws an image for the reader and brings together the connections to prove her claim. Overall, Kilbourne’s essay is very persuasive when she analyzes how advertisements are encouraging to problems such as sexual violence and sexual harassment. However, her analysis of addiction and its connection to advertisements aren’t as persuasive.

    One connection Kilbourne makes to make her argument more persuasive is the connection between sexual violence and ads. She explains how ‘Sex in advertising is more about disconnection and distance than connection and closeness. It is also more often about power than passion, about violence than violins” (489). Kilbourne continues to explain throughout her essay how media has developed an abusive view on women. To further this analysis, she also adds that media also glorifies rape and violence while undermining the intelligence of women. This is achieved by showing how “Sex in advertising is pornographic because it dehumanizes and objectifies people” (Kilbourne, 489). In some ads, women are shown dead or even in the process of getting killed. Kilbourne shows an ad in the Italian version of Vogue where a man is aiming a gun at a nude woman wrapped in plastic, and a leather briefcase covering her face (Kilbourne, 498-499). In another ad aimed at selling jeans, three men are attacking a woman. Kilbourne points out this ad isn’t aimed at compelling or attracting women, but it may be a way for the ad to get their attention by shocking the women or arouse “unconscious anxiety” (496). Kilbourne goes on to explain how these ads are something we become numb to and ignore. Ads such as this help in the design of our fantasies of domination and even rape Thus it becomes a societal norm to look at and in turn makes it okay to do similar things.

    One point that isn’t as strong as the others are her connections with advertisements and addiction. Her essay focuses mainly on sexual harassment and violence so when she begins to connect them to addiction it feels dropped and lackluster. When looking at the ad for a “Velvet Hammer” or Smirnoff’s vodka, she points out that they have a connection to addiction, but then explains how they connect to rape or other forms of sexual violence. Even when she explains how girls “turn to food, alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs in a misguided attempt to cope” she is explaining how it is influenced by the stronger connection to sexual harassment and violence that men play in women’s’ lives (512). She ultimately uses the ads that include alcohol to explain the role it may play in date rape or sexual harassment in general. Along with her ideas on how girls may turn to addiction of any form stem from the idea that male violence, harassment, and its continuous course cause them to do so. Thus, when she tries to connect addiction and advertisements the outcome is a dropped idea and making the point very unconvincing.

    Another connection Kilbourne uses to make her writing more persuasive is how ads encourage acts of sexual harassment. Many of the advertisements make it seem okay to demean women and pursue them, even when they don’t want to be. In an Old Spice deodorant ad, Kilbourne analyzes how the words “No” in big bold letters across the page encourages men “to never take no for an answer” (Kilbourne, 492). To further this point, she then continues to describe an ad for jeans where a woman has blackened eyes, either by makeup or something else, with the print “Apply generously to your neck so he can smell the scent as you shake your head ‘no’ ” (Kilbourne 493). Another ad that is exemplified to show how ads encourage sexual harassment is an ad for jeans. The ad shows an alluring woman in an elevator asking for men to “Push my buttons” and that she is “… looking for a man who can totally floor” her (496). Kilbourne makes the connection that in an ad such as this, the young woman is dressed provocatively and asking for the harassment. And to further the point that she is in a vulnerable spot, the ad takes place in an elevator, which can often be a dangerous place for women to be. Kilbourne’s examples of ads with the intent of selling deodorant, perfume, or even jeans show how they also send messages that try to fulfill what could be interpreted as sexual desires of men or even women. With messages that basically tell men and women that “no” does not actually mean no, it persuades the viewer to accept this fact and encourages acts of sexual harassment.

    Kilbourne also elaborates her ideas on how sexual harassment and violence affects women more than it affects men. She states that ads with “violent images contribute to the state of terror” this state of terror can also be contributed to the “objectification and disconnection” which creates a climate of increasing violence (499). This creates the idea that “the culture of violence is manifested at the societal level, where it undermines the status and power of women, and at the individual level, where it reinforces harmful attitudes and beliefs about women and violence towards women” (Kahlor et al par. 2). These ads ideologically turn other humans into objects rather than create and the idea that they are equals. Kilbourne states that she believes this is the first step in justifying violence since it is easier to abuse a thing than be violent to someone we see as an equal (499). Since women are more objectified than men, this is an experience that is easier for them to understand. Despite men recently being objectified in ads, they don’t experience the same type of demeaning feeling or risk. Kilbourne brings up the idea that in an ad for Diet Coke, a shirtless man is separated from the women. This ad makes the man seem powerful and in control. However, if there was a role reversal, a woman surrounded by men and as she drinks her Diet Coke she takes her shirt off, this scene would put the woman in a frightening scenario. This is because men are the ones who objectify women. For men, they don’t have this fear because they are not constantly judged. They are normally not the ones who are beaten, raped, or harassed in a heterosexual relationship. Kilbourne provides evidence from Jackson Katz’s lectures on male violence that when asked what men and women do to protect themselves from sexual assault, men are puzzled by the question. However, the women understand the scenarios and reflect upon all the precautions they take to protect themselves. Kilbourne also explains how the responsibilities of men and women are held at different standards. One example of such is in a Diet Pepsi commercial featuring Cindy Crawford being looked at two young boys making suggestive comments. However, they were supposedly about the Diet Pepsi and not Cindy Crawford. Kilbourne then brings up the idea of a role switch. Thus two young girls would be looking at a man making suggestive comments. In both scenarios, it is still the women that are in a dangerous position. She also continues to explain a case where a Canadian judge accused a three-year-old girl of being sexually aggressive. This allowed the accused molester to continue to return to his job as a baby-sitter. Kilbourne uses these facts to further persuade the idea that women are more susceptible to being objectified, and with that, more susceptible to violence. Not only are they the ones more likely to be affected by such ads, but they will be the ones held responsible for eliciting the acts.

    All in all, Kilbourne writes a very persuasive essay about the connections between advertisements and their connections to sexual harassment and sexual violence. Although they don’t have a direct causation, Kilbourne shows how ads encourage and have a strong connection to sexual harassment and violence. Her analysis of the ads and how we are blindsided by their effect on us makes it compelling to see how her claim is very true. Ads provide a hidden message that we don’t always visually see, but they do affect us subconsciously. While some ads blatantly state their message, others play on the viewers’ emotions and contribute to Kilbourne’s idea of cultural abuse. Kilbourne brings together the idea that there is a repression of women and sometimes men when ads objectify men and women. When ads give either sex power over the other it adds to Kilbourne’s idea that ads contribute to the cultural abuse we see.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Drawing Connections Between Advertising and Social Problems. (2022, Jan 28). Retrieved from

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