Ms. Magazine
MS.CELLANEOUS
-What?
-Just the Facts
-Word: Bi
-Women to Watch
Diary of a Slam Poet
National Poetry Slam champion and outspoken feminist shares a year of her life on the road. By Alix Olson
AD SAVVY
In these two articles, we explore some of the ways ads affect us.

Hooked on Advertising
Cultural critic Jean Kilbourne takes on ads offers new insight into the not-so-obvious messages lurking behind the luster. By Clea Simon

Consuming Passions
Today's advertising execs and their big- business clients are betting that consumers will buy products made by companies that support social causes. Are the ads just talk, or is there substance behind the slogans? By Dan Bischoff

Book Reviews
On the Ms. bookshelf
Saturday's Child by Robin Morgan
The Crimson Edge: Older Women Writing (Volume Two) by Sondra Zeidenstein
Gun Women by Mary Zeiss Stange and Carol K. Oyster

Her Way by Paula Kamen
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

EDITOR'S PAGE
by Marcia Ann Gillespie

YOUR HEALTH:
-The Latest on Tamoxifen
-Healthnotes

NEWS:
-In Poland, Feminism Is the News
-The Right's Stealth Tactics
-Gloria Steinem's Wedding Day
- Newsmaker: Aloisea Inyumba
- What Will Mexico's New Government Mean for Women?
- Opinion: Blaming the Messenger
- Clippings

UPPITY WOMEN:
Elouise Cobell Takes on the Feds

FIRST PERSON:
Aunt Jemima in the Mirror

TECHNO.FEM:
What's a Hacktivist?

SHE SAYS:
The Body Shop's Anita Roddick

ARTS:
Shirin Neshat Sees Beyond the Veil

COLUMNS
by Daisy Hernandez, Patricia Smith, and Gloria Steinem

NO COMMENT

SEX AND POWER:
Is the feminist movement stuck in mid-revolution? According to this well-known lawyer and activist the answer is yes. Now it's time to move on and harness our power.

 
 
 
 
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In some ways, Kilbourne's message seems simplistic. Haven't we heard this before? Heard it so many times in so many ways, in fact, that we're smart enough to see beyond the Madison Avenue gloss? Yes, she agrees that we know it all—but the ads keep on coming, and their influence seems to be escalating. "Advertising is cumulative, and it's mostly unconscious," says Kilbourne. Even when we do not buy a product, she insists, at some level we buy into the consumer mind-set, and that makes us vulnerable to the $200 billion-a-year ad industry. We are the biggest consumer society on the face of the earth, and advertisers often apply tremendous pressure to the media to adapt content. "I'm not saying that people are brainwashed," says Kilbourne. "I'm not saying that advertisers have absolute control or anything like that. I'm just saying it is a powerful influence and we need to take it seriously. It's a powerful influence that's increasing in the culture."

SELLING SEX
Sex in advertising and the media is often criticized from a puritanical perspective—there's too much of it, it's too blatant, it will encourage kids to be promiscuous, etc. But sex in advertising has far more to do with trivializing sex than with promoting it. The problem is not that it is sinful, but that it is synthetic and cynical. This ad may say that "you have the right to remain sexy," but the subtext is "only if you look like this." The woman in this ad is an object-available, exposed, essentially passive. She has the right to remain sexy, but not the right to be actively sexual. Just as women and girls are offered a kind of ersatz defiance through drinking and smoking that interferes with true rebellion, so we are offered a pseudo-sexuality that makes it far more difficult to discover our own unique and authentic sexuality. How sexy can a woman be if she hates her body? She can act sexy, but can she feel sexy? How fully can she surrender to passion if she is worried that her thighs are too heavy or her stomach too round, if she can't bear to be seen in the light, or if she doesn't like the fragrance of her own genitals? -J.K.
 

Kilbourne's conviction springs from her own life experience. "I had done some modeling after I graduated from college—those were the days when it was very hard for women to get work," she says. "I really hated modeling. At that time, there were no words like objectification and sexual harassment, but I knew that was what was happening to me. That left me with a real interest in the power of beauty." So Kilbourne began collecting ads and talking to people about the effect such images were having on women, on all of us. After recovering from alcohol and tobacco addiction, she began to focus on the way those drugs were marketed, targeted to men, to women, to children. From the 1951 Marlboro ad that advised an overworked mother to light up in order to calm down to Virginia Slim's now-infamous co-opting of feminist imagery ("You've come a long way, baby"), ads, she noticed, promised a better self, a happier and more attractive self, if only you bought the product. CONTINUE>>

 

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