Killing Us Softly

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Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women
Directed byMargaret Lazarus, Renner Wunderlich, Patricia Stallone, and Joseph Vitagliano, based on a lecture by Jean Kilbourne
Produced byCambridge Documentary Films, Inc.
Running time
30 min (1979) original title
CountryUnited States

Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women is an American documentary by Margaret Lazarus, Renner Wunderlich, Patricia Stallone, and Joseph Vitagliano, based on a lecture by Jean Kilbourne and distributed by Cambridge Documentary Films, Inc. The documentary, first released in 1979 and since revised and updated four times, 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.[1][2]

The two most recent updates, Killing Us Softly 3 and Killing Us Softly 4, were produced by the Media Education Foundation and directed by Sut Jhally. Using modern print and television advertisements, the films make connections between unrealistic media portrayals of women and problems such as "eating disorders, men's violence against women, and the political backlash against feminism."[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.[1] 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.[5] Kilbourne also draws a connection between advertising and pornography, stating that "the advertisers are America's real pornographers".[5]


Kiling Us Softly 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)
  • Still Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women (1987), update of the 1979 film by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich through Cambridge Documentary Films, with Jean Kilbourne as co-creator
  • Killing Us Softly 3 (1999),[6] not to be confused with Beyond Killing Us Softly (2000),[7] featuring Jean Kilbourne, directed by Sut Jhally, and produced by the Media Education Foundation. This update focuses on the same themes as previous versions, while also reviewing "if and how the image of women in advertising has changed over the last 20 years."[8]
  • Killing Us Softly 4 (2010),[9] featuring Jean Kilbourne, directed by Sut Jhally, and produced by the Media Education Foundation. This update uses contemporary print and television ads to examine how women are represented in the media, noting that "the more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same."[10]


Killing Us Softly has often been used in university lectures.[11] Its various editions have been described as "extremely popular"[12] and have attracted praise;[2][13] Bakari Chavanu, for example, notes that the documentary is "an engaging and even humorous analysis of how images and ads shape our values".[14] 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.[12]

The documentary has also evoked some negative reactions. Paul 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.[5]

Related documentaries[edit]

Cambridge Documentary Films created two other films on this subject; the first is Beyond Killing Us Softly: The Strength to Resist (2000). That title was updated and released as The Strength to Resist: Advertising's Impact on Women and Girls, featuring Gloria Steinem, Amy Richards, Gail Dines, Valerie Batts, Jamila Batts, Catherine Steiner Adair, and others.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Amy Lind; Stephanie Brzuzy (2008). Battleground: M-Z. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 316–317. ISBN 978-0-313-34039-0.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women". Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  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. ^ a b c Paul Rutherford (2007). A World Made Sexy: Freud to Madonna. University of Toronto Press. pp. 149–154, 335. ISBN 978-0-8020-9466-7.
  6. ^ Joanne Entwistle; Elizabeth Wissinger (1 August 2013). Fashioning Models: Image, Text and Industry. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 2003. ISBN 978-0-85785-311-0.
  7. ^ Beyond Killing Us Softly. Cambridge Documentary Films. 2000.
  8. ^ "Films – Jean Kilbourne". Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Killing Us Softly 4". Media Education Foundation Online Store. Retrieved 2019-08-15.
  11. ^ Tom Reichert; Jacqueline Lambiase (1 December 2002). Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal. Routledge. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-4106-0706-5.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Nancy Signorielli (1 January 1996). Women in Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-313-29164-7.
  14. ^ Chavanu, Bakari (2011). "Seventeen, Self-Image, and Stereotypes". In Marshall, Elizabeth; Sensoy, Özlem (eds.). Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. Rethinking Schools. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-942961-48-5.
  15. ^ "The Strength to Resist: Media's impact on Women and Girls". Cambridge Documentary Films.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]