Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt by Jean Kilbourne

For the longest time now, advertising has played a huge role in how we identify ourselves in the United States with the American culture, and how others identify themselves with all the cultures of the rest of the world as well. It guides us in making everyday decisions, such as what items we definitely need to invest our money on, how to dress in-vogue, and what mindset we should have to prosper the most. Although advertising does help make life easier for most, at the same time it has negative affects on the people of society as well.

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Advertisement discreetly manipulates the beliefs, morals, and values of our culture, and it does so in a way that most of the time we don’t even realize it’s happened. In order to reach our main goal of prospering as a nation, we need to become more aware of the damage that has already been caused by this advertising and prevent it from negatively affecting us even further. Kilbourne’s major claim in “Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt” is that advertising has reached a point where bodies are portrayed as objects thereby normalizing attitudes that lead to sexual aggression.

Right away the readers are able to trust and respect the word of the author because of the italicized introduction included prior to her actual argument. We learn that for the majority of Kilbourne’s career she trained and educated others in advertising, and right now is a professor at Wellesley College. “She has produced award-winning documentaries on images of women in ads (Killing Us Softly, Slim Hopes) and tobacco advertising (Pack of Lies)” (417).

She was also part of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and as of today she works with the Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Sexual and Domestic Abuse. With all this experience in the field of advertising and abuse, it becomes almost impossible to question Kilbourne’s credibility and therefore serving as the piece’s ethical appeal. Being herself a woman, she attempts to plea emotionally to every other woman out there that she sees has been corrupted and dishonored by the continuous publication of ads pertaining to sex in one way or the other. Sex in advertising is pornographic because it dehumanizes and objectifies people, especially women, and because it fetishizes products, imbues them with an erotic charge – which dooms us to disappointment since products never can fulfill our sexual desires or meet our emotional needs” (417). Her appeal to pathos not only generates an emotional response but rather allows them to identify with her point of view as well. “Alcohol’s role has different meaning for men and women, however.

If a man is drunk when he commits a rape, he is considered less responsible. If a woman is drunk (or has had a drink or two or simply met the man in a bar), she is considered more responsible” (423). Kilbourne emphasizes the irony of society considering sexual aggression, referring to an ad that bluntly implies that men should never trust a woman’s “no”; how absurd it is that for men, rape is practically encouraged, while a woman’s beauty, something beyond control, is something women are held accountable for (424).

Kilbourne logically argues her case through reasoning. She structures this piece by including a series of rhetorical questions that in a way force the reader to be open-minded and flexible taking into account such a controversial topic, and then proceeds to answer these questions supporting her claims with actual published ads. She clearly and thoroughly examined how violence and the publicity given to sexually charged advertisement corrupts people’s mindset of themselves and others around them, particularly for women and girls. It is hard for girls not to learn self-hatred in an environment in which there is such widespread and open contempt for women and girls” (438). Because in a way we have become per say “numb” to these images of violence and degrading of women, we don’t realize that we are mitigating the portrayed aggression (428). By incorporating colloquial diction throughout her piece, Kilbourne employs a very conversational tone in order to gain her audience’s interest and attention.

Before even beginning the reading, the audience through the title, “Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt,” is able to understand also the personal tone the piece exhibits as well, especially for those who are female. Kilbourne’s support for her argument relies on the Appeal to Authority she makes, citing specific ads of big time companies and businesses to demonstrate how these ads are encouraging sexual aggression and violence. She alleges that ads affect us on an unconscious level stating we’ve become immune to the fact that these ads affect us (417).

At the same time, she declares ads are pornographic, since they encourage rape and sexual assault. Kilbourne maintains that all women are vulnerable because “in our culture there is widespread objectification of women’s bodies, glorification of disconnection, violence of women, and blaming of the victim” (433). It all refers back to Kilbourne’s main claim that ads depict individuals as things which encourages sexual hostility. For evidence, she provides data about sexual assault: “According to a 1998 study by the federal government, one in five of us have been the victim of rape or attempted rape, most often before our seventeenth birthday.

And more than half of us have been physically assaulted, most often by the men we live with” (430). On top of that, Kilbourne makes it a point to provide visuals and ads throughout the work, then describe and interpret them for us, all of which specifically pertain to claims she’s made by enforcing and agreeing with them. Clearly the author’s purpose for writing this piece was to make the uninformed people aware of how something that has become so normal for our society such as advertising is at the same time corrupting it little by little, but also she is opening people’s eyes about the dangers attached.

Kilbourne is initiating change in our world by emphasizing the key problems this type of advertising promotes making it easy for her readers to be inspired to change the way things are done because that is only what things are going to happen, if we all unite against the wrong. Because of Kilbourne’s experience and familiarity with the topic it’s difficult not to be accepting if not convinced of her argument. She manages to communicate her point of view thoroughly and effectively especially by incorporating the multiple ads she uses for support as well.

Due to the fact that I am a girl, I believe that as a reader I was able to identify and understand Kilbourne’s argument easier than perhaps a male reader would. I found it almost hilarious that Kilbourne included the statement found on pg 420, “Indeed the very worst kind of man for a woman to be in an intimate relationship with, often a truly dangerous man, is the one considered most sexy and desirable in pop culture,” because to me that truly sums up the mindset of women and men now-a-days. Talk about the sexy good intelligent kind man, is almost non-existent.

When women talk to one another about their “types” the bad boy almost always prevails. Although it is known that having this mindset ends in heartbreak and misery, it still maintains the most desired among individuals of the pop culture that surrounds us today. It is important to use Kilbourne’s argument as a head-start in looking further at the strong relationship between advertisement and sex, along with the harm that occurs because of it. It’s only clear that if advertising hasn’t already crossed the line, it is definitely pushing the limit as far as it will go.

It has a major connection to the social problems that take place, also because of the fact that it creates the inaccurate stereotypes we hold for men and women today, affecting and damaging people’s mindset of the way things are supposed to be. Considering the sexual assault cases involving alcohol consumption, it is known most victims are female, and interesting to know why this is so. It’s also important to question whether or not the assault is completely due to the alcohol involved, and understand the percentage of all cases that alcohol is a part of.

Kilbourne raises questions about women as sex symbols in society. Why are we so bent on women as sex symbols? Why women in ads can’t be appreciated for their brains rather than their beauty or body. Her argument initiates the desire to further research the issue, because that’s what has become of it. She opens the eyes of both men and women to what our society is turning into, and the only way out of it is to alter our own way of thought and expose the wrong that we currently impose.

Our goal in life is to advance and prosper and once we are aware of things that prevent us from doing so, such as using sex to sell advertisement while at the same time dehumanizing people turning them biter and against one another, we can not only correct the mistakes that are made but make our nation stronger and the people in it happier and more united as a whole. Works Cited Kilbourne, Jean. “Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt: Advertising and Violence. ” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. Seventh Ed. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, & Bonnie Lisle. Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. 417-441

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