Killing Us Softly

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Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women
Directed by Jean Kilbourne
Produced by Cambridge Documentaries
Running time 30 min (1979)
45 min (2010)
Country United States
Language English

Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women is an American, feminist[1] documentary by Jean Kilbourne, distributed by Cambridge Documentaries. The documentary was first released in 1979 and has since been updated and re-released several times, most recently in 2010, with added and revised footage and commentary. The documentary focuses on images of women in advertising, in particular on gender stereotypes, the effects of advertising on women's self-image and the objectification of women's bodies.[2][3]

Kilbourne is critical of the advertising industry, accusing it of misconduct.[4] She argues that the superficial, objectifying and unreal portrayal of women in advertising lowers women's self-esteem.[2] Sexualized images of women are being used to sell virtually all kinds of goods, and Kilbourne argues that they degrade women, encourage abuse, and reinforce the patriarchal, sexist society.[1] Kilbourne also draws a connection between advertising and pornography, stating that "the advertisers are America's real pornographers".[1]

The documentary and its revisions have been developed from lectures that Kilbourne has been delivering at American universities since early 1970s. The documentary has had four editions, each updating the previous release:

  • Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women, 1979[1]
  • Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women, 1987[1]
  • Killing Us Softly 3, 1999[5] or 2000[1] (sources variously report this documentary as published either in 1999 or 2000; possibly confusing it with the Beyond Killing Us Softly, 2000, directed by Margaret Lazarus)
  • Killing Us Softly 4, 2010.[6]

The documentary has often been used in university lectures.[7] The various editions have been described as "extremely popular"[8] and have attracted praise;[3][9] Bakari Chavanu, for example, notes that the documentary is "an engaging and even humorous analysis of how images and ads shape our values".[10] Ford et al. noted that the documentary raises feminist consciousness, up to the point that it has been positively correlated with boycotts of products whose advertisements were seen as offensive.[8]

The documentary has also evoked some negative reactions. Rutherford criticized Kilbourne for a "crusade against advertising", arguing that in the documentary she is conflating pornography and erotica, not noticing the satirical and artistic values of advertising, and ignoring the influence of the world of fashion.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Paul Rutherford (2007). A World Made Sexy: Freud to Madonna. University of Toronto Press. pp. 149–154, 335. ISBN 978-0-8020-9466-7. 
  2. ^ a b Amy Lind; Stephanie Brzuzy (2008). Battleground: M-Z. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 316–317. ISBN 978-0-313-34039-0. 
  3. ^ a b Chris Bobel; Samantha Kwan (2011). Embodied Resistance: Challenging the Norms, Breaking the Rules. Vanderbilt University Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-8265-1787-6. 
  4. ^ Ford, John B.; LaTour, Michael S.; Lundstrom, William J. (1 January 1991). "Contemporary women's evaluation of female role portrayals in advertising". Journal of Consumer Marketing 8 (1): 15–28. doi:10.1108/07363769110034901. 
  5. ^ Joanne Entwistle; Elizabeth Wissinger (1 August 2013). Fashioning Models: Image, Text and Industry. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 2003. ISBN 978-0-85785-311-0. 
  6. ^ Judith Leavitt (8 May 2012). The Sexual Alarm System: Women's Unwanted Response to Sexual Intimacy and How to Overcome It. Jason Aronson. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-7657-0916-5. 
  7. ^ Tom Reichert; Jacqueline Lambiase (1 December 2002). Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal. Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-4106-0706-5. 
  8. ^ a b Ford, John B.; Latour, Michael S.; Middleton, Courtney (1 September 1999). "Women' Studies and Advertising Role Portrayal Sensitivity: How Easy is it to Raise "Feminist Consciousness"?". Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising 21 (2): 77–87. doi:10.1080/10641734.1999.10505096. 
  9. ^ Nancy Signorielli (1 January 1996). Women in Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-313-29164-7. 
  10. ^ Chavanu, Bakari (2011). "Seventeen, Self-Image, and Stereotypes". In Marshall, Elizabeth; Sensoy, Özlem. Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. Rethinking Schools. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-942961-48-5. 

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