Is the Media ‘Killing Us Softly?’

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On March 5, the American Association for University Women, the Gender Studies Program and the Center for Equality and Justice at California Lutheran University sponsored a screening of “Killing Us Softly 4” in order to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Students, professors and other members of the Cal Lutheran community gathered in Richter Hall to view the 45-minute-long film in which Jean Kilbourne discussed how the presence of women in media and advertising affects the lives of women in America and around the globe.

This documentary is the fourth in Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” series, which takes a look at women’s role in advertising and media and the effect these ads have, not only on women and their own self-identity, but also how society views women. The film showcases how a women’s role in society has changed, but also how it has stayed the same in the presence of the media.

In the documentary Kilbourne covered different ways women are used in forms of advertising, as well as what the standard of beauty has become in American society by way of the media and advertising.

An idea that emerged in the film is women are “surrounded by the ideal image of beauty, and failure is inevitable because the women don’t even look like that,” according to the documentary. Kilbourne discussed more about what is meant by the “ideal” image of beauty, and how far some women will go to achieve this look.

The film showed photos being edited to make women appear thinner, bustier, with larger eyes and lips. Kilbourne discussed how these standards are impossible for women to achieve because the models in many of these ads don’t even look in real life as they do in the advertisements.

“The one image that blew me away was when they took four different images to literally create a woman,” said Professor Peter Carlson of the Religion Department and Director of the Gender Studies program at Cal Lutheran. “When advertising presents these unreal images of women, women are set up to fail.”

In the film Kilbourne said that for our society to change, consumers must take control and make decisions. She asked the audience to think twice about buying products whose companies use advertisements objectifying women.

“Be aware and make a change. Public health problems can only be cured by changing the environment,” Kilbourne said.

This film was presented to celebrate International Women’s Day which is officially celebrated worldwide on March 8.

The holiday is dedicated to celebrating women and their achievements in society.

“International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future,” according to the International Women’s Day website.

“All around the world International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and also call for better equality to actually encourage positive action to achieve that equality,”  Carlson said. “The [United Nations] has gotten behind it and each year declares a theme. This year the theme was ‘Empowering women, empowering humanity, picture it.’”

“I think it was meant to empower women by saying that women don’t have to be something. Women are allowed to control their identity. They are allowed to be conventionally beautiful if they want to be but they don’t have to be. They have the freedom to choose,” said sophomore Michelle Cerami who attended the screening on March 5.

A discussion panel was held following the viewing of the documentary.

This panel included students, Feminism Is Club members and faculty who shared more insight, as well as shared personal experiences with the issues being presented. Audience members were able to ask questions to add more to the discussion.

“I thought it was cool how we could hear their own opinions and their own life stories,” said Antonia Rapisardi who was also in attendance on Thursday.

Rapisardi said the film has changed how she views advertisements and will change her reactions to media news.

“I think the media tries to tell us how we should act and how we should look, and it isn’t always a good thing. I won’t pay attention to it as much like I used to,” Rapisardi said.

Carlson said each year the Gender Studies program at Cal Lutheran pairs with the American Association of University Women to sponsor an event for National Women’s Day. He said the program decided on this film because they felt it had an important message for college students to hear.

“Our hope is that becoming aware of the ways in which women are all too often pictured, all of humanity will be inspired to picture women differently,” Carlson said.

Samantha Chittenden
Staff Writer
Published March 11, 2015