Ms. Magazine
-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
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

by Marcia Ann Gillespie

-The Latest on Tamoxifen

-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

Elouise Cobell Takes on the Feds

Aunt Jemima in the Mirror

What's a Hacktivist?

The Body Shop's Anita Roddick

Shirin Neshat Sees Beyond the Veil

by Daisy Hernandez, Patricia Smith, and Gloria Steinem


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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"She really was the first one to look at how tobacco and alcohol advertisers played on women's real expectations, on their real desires and relationships," says Sut Jhally, professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts and executive director of the Media Education Foundation, which produces educational tapes about gender and violence in the media. "She took advertising images seriously," says Jhally, who worked with Kilbourne on the 1991 video about tobacco advertising Pack of Lies, the 1995 video on the obsession with thinness Slim Hopes, and the 2000 documentary about women and advertising Killing Us Softly 3.

In this ad, the young women are the accessories and the backpack is the intimate partner. The accompanying copy assures the reader that the backpack "comes with a lifetime guarantee not to rip, tear, break, or ask for a ring." Taken individually, ads like this are silly, sometimes funny, certainly nothing to worry about. But cumulatively they create a climate of cynicism and alienation that is poisonous to relationships. Many people end up feeling romantic about material objects yet deeply cynical about other human beings. In a society in which so many marriages end in divorce, we are offered constancy through our products. As one ad says, "Some people need only one man. Or one woman. Or one watch." O.K., so we can't be monogamous—at least we can be faithful to our watches. We are told we can adjust to fleeting, impermanent relationships by focusing on our lasting relationships with products. "The ski instructor faded away three winters ago. At least the sweater didn't," says an ad featuring a woman alone on a beach, smiling happily in her sweater. Because of the pervasiveness of this kind of advertising message, we learn from childhood that it is far safer to make a commitment to a product than to a person, that it is far easier to be loyal to a brand than to a relationship. -J.K.

While cigarette and alcohol advertisers are busy trying to sell their products as the new revolution, Kilbourne has her own revolutionary idea to sell: act against ads. "Break through the denial, the complacency, and act against whatever bad feelings ads inspire," she says. "The most important thing we can do is teach media literacy in our schools. Most other nations do. A truly critical audience would be less easily manipulated." We also need to look at advertising-related problems as public health issues, Kilbourne argues. "We now know that alcohol and tobacco are public health issues. We need to see that eating disorders and obsession with thinness and violence against women are as well. And we need to recognize the role of advertising in this." As for what each person can do to fight back against ads? "Anything. Start a mother-daughter group and lobby for the schools to teach media literacy. Lobby for campaign finance reform. Run for office. Support the feminist groups that exist now, the battered women's centers and the rape crisis centers. Every single thing that people do in that regard is important. What will bring about change is a critical mass of people who are seeing things differently."

Clea Simon is the author of Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings (Penguin, 1997) and is working on a book about women and their fathers.

The advertisement critiques here and on the previous pages are adapted from Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel by Jean Kilbourne (Simon & Schuster, 2000). For information, go to
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