Argumentative Essay "Sex in advertising is more about power than passion"

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Jessica Pugsley
Kathy Rowley

Comp 201

27 February 2012

Argumentative Essay

“Sex in advertising is more about power than passion”(Kilbourne 594). Does sex really sell? How many times have consumers been persuaded into buying a Victoria Secret bra because of the lustrous models, or into buying Axe body spray because it “attracts ladies”? This is not a mistake; the media uses these tools to make people feel inadequate enough into thinking that they need the products in order to feel as sexy or attractive as the people in the advertisements. Clearly the media is using this natural draw that humans have towards sexuality and banking on it. Using sex is an easy way for products to be sold, but what influence does this have in society? Media should not be using sex to sell products, it generates a miscued version of what sex is about, encourages violent acts and other negative behaviors.

Media has changed over the years and is now hooked on this idea that sex appeals to young adults. They use it in commercials, advertisements, magazines and even TV shows. According to Kilbourne, “sex in advertising is pornographic because it dehumanizes and objectifies people, especially woman and because it fetishizes products, imbues them with an erotic charge which dooms us to disappointment since products never can fulfill our sexual desires or meet our emotional needs” (Kilbourne 594). We go out and get push up bras because they’re sexy and will make your boobs look better, but does that really make us feel better having all that padding? Maybe under a shirt it looks good, but it doesn’t meet our emotional needs. For example an add for neck ties that says “ The right tie can make even the most casual evening more memorable,” (Killbourne 594) following a picture of a bed with sheets messed up and a neck tie on top. Giving the underlying message that because of a necktie he had sex? Giving guys the expectation that because there neck tie is nice, they will take someone home, and when they don’t there’s disappointment for not meeting our sexual desires.

In the past few years, anti-advertising activists have taken to the streets literally. In Washington, for example, a feminist group called Women Fighting Back has slapped a sticker on the Kool-ad reading, “Keep your ads off my body” (Clark). People are fighting against the media and saying it’s not okay to sexually exploit everything. Although there are some people who just don’t care about their bodies being used as advertisement. According to Clark: “Advertising experts have long recognized that individual elements of ads often become more important than the placement of the product. Ads depict who uses the product, how a family looks, what is beautiful and the roles played by men and women. According to Clark: “That's why blacks and women” get upset over certain ads, says Duke University Professor William M. O'Barr (Clark). This is so true because half the time when we watch these articles we remember the “sexy thing” the girl did instead of the product. Or it’s all about how nice it is so you don’t look poor.

No one is really worrying about the quality of the product just the status it will give them. The media is also influencing young adults and older adults into believing that violence is acceptable. They see it through all of the ads and TV shows with people they look up to. They begin thinking “if they got away with it I will too.” A woman arrived at Dr. Robert E. McAfee's office in a high state of anxiety, complaining of breast soreness. She was afraid she had cancer. Even after McAfee said he saw no evidence of cancer, his fearful patient kept returning. At first, the Portland, Maine, surgeon was baffled. Finally, on her third visit, McAfee noticed small bruises under the woman's ribs and on her shoulder. “The light bulb went on,” McAfee recalls. Under the doctor's prodding, the woman revealed that her husband, a respected local businessman, had been beating her for 10 years” (Glazer). The statistics of abuse are going up substantially and males aren’t always the victims. “The first national study of domestic violence was conducted by University of New Hampshire sociologist Murray A. Straus, who published the results in a 1980 book, Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family. He concluded from telephone interviews that close to 2 million women a year are beaten by their husbands. The AMA now estimates that twice that number are victims of severe assaults by boyfriends and husbands each year, and about one in four women is likely to be abused by a partner in her lifetime” (186) That number is so high and most people keep it a secret they are scared to tell someone because they might not believe them.

However more girls are standing up for themselves and speaking out. “The rise of the feminist movement, the founding of rape crisis centers and the growth of battered women's shelters across the country have made it socially permissible for many more women to admit they have been assaulted by an intimate than in years past. The changing climate means more women are calling police, some local law enforcers report. The number of shelters for battered women has grown from none to some 1,500 in the past 20 years” (Glazer). Commercials try and make violence look sexy or appealing. “Wear it out and make it Scream, says a jeans ad portraying a man sliding his hands under a woman’s transparent blouse. This could be a seduction but it could as easily be an attack. Although the ad that ran in the Czeck version of Elle portraying three men attacking a woman seems unambiguous, the terrifying image is being used to sell jeans to woman (Killbourne 596).” Why woman would find this image as attractive is the question. When getting a pair of jeans you don’t want the image of violence or rape in your head as why you liked them. Rape should never be appealing and the media should never try and portray it as what the girl wants.

Rape isn’t the only issue the media can create it also can play a role with violence. The Violence media encourages is not only physically harmfully but also cause’s emotional damage through actions such as rape. “One high-school junior descried a year of torment at her vocational school: “The boys call me slut, bitch. They call mea 10-times; because they say U go with 10 guys at the same time. I put up with it because I have no choice. The teachers say its because the boys think I’m pretty (Kilbourne 610).” In high school you hear about harassment happening everyday and no one will ever stand up and say anything.

Not only is this happening in high school, but also it has now moved down to the young grades. “A fifth-grade boy in Georgia repeatedly touched the breasts and genitals of one of his fellow students while saying, (I want to get in bed with you) and (I want to feel ours boobs). Authorities did nothing, although the girl complained and her grades fell. When her parents found a suicide note she had written, they took the board of education to court” (610). It shouldn’t come down to a parent suing the board of education to put a stop to sexual harassment. The kids see this happening in show and are getting it from the public at such a young age and its so easy for them to get a hand on horrible stuff now days. “Pornography is more dangerously mainstream when its glorification of rape and violence shows up in mass media through films and television show, in comedy and music videos, and in advertising. Male violence is subtly encouraged by ads that encourage men to be forceful and dominant, and to value sexual intimacy more than emotional intimacy” (595). All these incidents are showing young men that violence is acceptable and they are growing up accustomed to it.

It’s causing more rapes among campuses and in general. “One in four college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape” (Glazer). That percentage is extremely high, which is a very scary image. “Men are also encouraged to never take no for an answer. Ad after ad implies that girls and women don’t really mean ‘no’ when they say it, that women are only teasing when they resist men’s advances” (Kilbourne 597). Women joke around and tease about saying no in a cute, little voice so that men will think there not “easy,” but then they do what the guys want anyways. This gives them a false interpretation of when you say no. “Advertising often encourages women to be attracted to hostile and indifferent men while encouraging boys to become these men” (597). Drinking also plays a huge factor into rapes and Kilbourne speaks a lot on this subject. Giving examples of ads such as “’Two Ways a woman can get hurt’, says an add for shaving gel, featuring a razor and photo of a handsome man. My first thought is that the man is a batterer or date rapist, but the ad informs us that he is merely a “heartbreaker.” “The gel will protect the woman so that “while guys may continue to be in pain, shaving most definitely won’t.” “Desirable men are painful – heartbreakers at best” (596). She then goes on to say “ The popular culture usually trivializes these abilities in women mocks men who have real intimacy with women (it is almost always married me in ads and cartoons who are jerks), and idealizes a template for relationships between men and woman that is a recipe for disaster: a template that view sex as more important than anything else, that ridicules men who are not in control of their women (who are “pussy-whipped”), and that disparages fidelity and commitment (except, of those, to brand names)” (Kilbourne 597). Because of the media using sex to sell products it has not only had negative effects on men but has back fired and been used against woman, too. For example Victoria Secret tempts young woman with blatantly sexual ads promising that their lingerie will make them irresistible. “Yet when a young woman accused William Kennedy Smith of raping her, the fact that she wrote Victoria Secret panties was used against her as an indication of her immorality. A jury acquitted Smith, whose alleged history of violence against woman was not permitted to be introduced at trial” (599). The media doesn’t understand how it is hurting people by selling sex.

A counter argument to the whole rape scheme is: “A major point raised by date rape critics is that the scope of victimization is so large only because it is based on a radical and elastic new definition of rape.... Although educational materials exist that promote broad interpretations of the term “rape,” critics err in the assumption that these definitions undergird the empirical database. Rape was defined in [my 1987 national survey of college students] as “penetration against consent through force, threat of force, or when the victim was incapacitated with alcohol or other drugs.” This definition of rape is consistent with the statutes of most North American jurisdictions. A total of 15 percent of college women had one or more experiences since their 14th birthday that met this definition. An additional 12 percent had experienced rape attempts in which penetration did not occur” (Glazer). Critics express further suspicion regarding the validity of date rape because “73 percent of the rape victims classified as rape victims by the researcher did not think they had been raped.” This is a deliberately twisted presentation of the data. The women who had experiences that met legal requirements for rape in the national study viewed their incident as follows: one-quarter thought it was rape; one-quarter thought it was some kind of crime, but did not realize it qualified as rape; one-quarter thought it was serious sexual abuse, but did not know it qualified as a crime; and one-quarter did not feel victimized by the experience. Thus the great majority of rape victims conceptualized their experience in highly negative terms and felt victimized whether or not they realized that legal standards for rape had been met.... The failure to embrace the correct legal label for one's victimization does not mean that the victimization did not occur (Trilling). The issue rape is so thrown around that it is hard to decide who is being truthful and who is twisting their story. Because this issue is so controversial and there aren’t’ always ways of proving it, people feel they can not speak out about there assaults.

There are so many issues revolving around the media, but their almost unsolvable. How do you turn around something that is so unfortunately socially acceptable? Sex does sell and our generation is so use to it. If it did not work the products that use it the most for instance Victoria Secret wouldn’t be so successful. It’s unfortunate that we are so drawn to sex but I don’t see it changing in the future. Feminist can try and try all they want but the world is greedy and advertisers and industries have a lot of it so there stuff is going to get out there no matter what.

Work Cited

Clark, Charles. “Advertising Under Attack: Critics organize around race, sex, healthy and the environment.” CQ Researcher 1 (1991): 657-680. Print.

Glazer, Sarah. “Sex on Campus.” CQ Researcher 4 Nov. 1994: 961-84. Web. 3 Oct.


Glazer, Sarah. “Violence Against Women.” CQ Researcher 26 Feb. 1993: 169-92. Web. 3 Oct. 2011.

Greene, Stuart. “From Inquiry to Academic Writing”. Boston: Bedford/St Martin

S, 2008. 1-836. Print.

Haggerty, Maryann. “Reality TV: Is it harmless entertainment or a cultural threat?” CQ Researcher 20.29 (2010): 677-700. Print.

Kilbourne, Jean. “Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt’: Advertising and Violence.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 592-614. Print.

Prah, Pamela. “Domestic violence: Do teenagers need more protection.” CQ Researcher 16.1 (2006): 1-24. Print.

Trilling, Diana. “My Turn” Column, Newsweek, June 6, 1994.

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