Thought of the Day

Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

~ Michael Leunig


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jean Kilbourne on “Killing Us Softly 4”

A 1993 study on women in relationships shows that 28% have experienced abuse by someone they know, and 15% have been forced to engage in unwanted sex under alcohol or drugs. It was with this statistic that Jean Kilbourne opened her captivating talk on what exactly advertising sells, and how it is linked to real problems in society.  Based off her fourth “Killing Us Softly” film (the first was in 1979), the presentation showed that the same subtle messages pervade advertising today. Here are some of the points Kilbourne made:

  • We’re exposed to 3000 brands a day on average (often without actually realizing what we’re seeing), and babies at the age of six months can recognize corporate logos. That’s scary, especially when you think about what exactly advertising is often telling us.
  • For women, it’s all about how to look and what to do in order to look that way. Often, this involves a body that is literally impossible to attain. In Pretty Woman, for example – Julia Roberts’ head is hers, but her body is that of a body double. Photoshop is another tool used to create these impossible forms – we’ve all seen the comical “Photoshop gone wrong” pictures, but often the mistakes aren’t quite so obvious – instead, we see the “perfect” thighs or arms or light, clear skin.

That's her head, but not her body!

  • Not only do impossible standards affect a woman’s self esteem, they also affect the way men look at the real women in their lives.
  • Kilbourne isn’t trying to say that advertising causes violence, but she does emphasize the way that advertising often turns women into objects. In any situation, the objectification of humans is the first step towards violence. How is this objectification achieved? First and foremost, advertising often dismembers the female body. There’s a focus on breasts, on grotesquely positioned limbs. There are the come-hither poses of the models and the frequent displays or insinuations of rape. Women of colour in advertising are often portrayed animalistically or exotified. There’s a terror of aging which perpetrates the ads, and again this is a denial of reality.

A pretty blatant example of selling sex and dismembering/objectifying women's bodies.

Wonderbra ad, 1999.

Stereotyping of women of colour using animal prints and a hostile gaze? Check! Click on the photo to see more examples.

Twiggy was majorly - and controversially - photoshopped for this Olay campaign. Click on the photo to see what they changed.

  • For males, there’s the trend of turning men’s bodies into sex objects as well, and this has increased from the past. However, this is different than women’s dismemberment because men don’t live in a world in which their bodies are continually judged. Statistically, there are fewer consequences for men as a result of this objectification. Males are also used to emphasize the importance of making money on a man’s worth. This is also a wounding stereotype, one that goes as far as making relationships into a financial transaction in some ads.

So many things wrong with this picture.

  • Kilbourne talked a lot about the obsession with thinness – the idea that girls should literally take up less space. With the high rates of eating disorders, this is not something that we can afford to perpetrate. There’s a constant shame towards eating, which is underscored by language such as “guilty pleasure” and being “bad” when you’ve broken your diet. Kilbourne emphasizes that dieting is a great way to wreck your metabolism and to eventually gain more weight. The fact that obsesity rates are rising while our obsession with thinness continues points to systemic, societal problems. In addition, the myth that women of colour don’t suffer from eating disorders is not true, as with men and boys – who now make up 10% of anorexia sufferers.

Something's a little off here...

Yes, these actually exist. The ads for these t-shirts, featuring a slogan made famous by Kate Moss in 2009, were banned in August 2011.

  • Trigger Warning: The following may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault. 
Sex in ads was another big theme in the presentation. This is something that extends from the sexualization of little girls, to the use of sex – and violent scenes suggestive of rape – to sell products. Moreover, the media offers conflicting views of sexiness: sexy yet innocent, experienced yet virginal. For men, the media’s sexual messages emphasize masculinity and power, painting men as dominating over women – often through violence or implied sexual assault. This distorted message promotes the view that men are violent, and anything feminine in men is negative. Most men aren’t violent, but many are afraid to challenge other men who show violence in their actions or words. Thus, advertising keeps us trapped in defined roles of masculinity and femininity.
This promotion for the Prada Autumn/Winter 2011 Collection doesn’t just hypersexualize and ‘dismember’ (thus objectifying) female bodies. It also contributes to the sexualization of girls – one of the models featured in the video is only 13!

How long did it take you to notice the tomatoes?

Apparently, Dolce & Gabbana can even go as far as to use gang rape to sell their products.

So what do we do about this? It’s a public health issue – one linked to sexual assault, violence and mental health. These are huge problems…

  • Nearly 30% of all female homicide victims were known to have been killed by their husbands, former husbands or boyfriends. In contrast, just over 3% of male homicide victims were known to have been killed by their wives, former wives, or girlfriends.
  • At any given time, 70% of women and 35% of men are dieting. A 1993 Statistics Canada Survey reported that in women between the ages of 15 and 25, 1-2% have anorexia and 3-5% have bulimia. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, with 10% to 20% eventually dying from complications.

… and if the media is perpetrating and contributing to these problems,  that’s something we need to be more worried about. We need to be conscious about our own choices. Before buying, find out who is making products and what messages those companies are sending or supporting.

Furthermore, support each other. Stop the negative self-talk, especially when around young girls. Women, stop bringing down other women for no reason. Stop calling your friends bitches and hoes. Don’t fall victim to this way of treating others. Be okay with all expressions of masculinity and femininity, and ask yourself why you feel otherwise.

Jean Kilbourne spoke at Queen’s University on October 27, 2011. Her two newest books, “So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids” and “Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel” are available to borrow from the Equity Library in the ASUS Core.

Visit Jean Kilbourne’s website at

Posted in Equity Issues in the Media, Feminism, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Resource – The Equity Handbook

The Equity Handbook is a training resource for anyone who is interested in discussing social justice and equity in a group setting. It includes information, activities and discussion about a number of issues. Click here: Equity Handbook

Check out more resources under the “Resources” tab above!

Posted in ASUS Equity, Equity 101, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Equity Poster Contest – deadline extended!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Equity Poster Contest!

The Equity Office is currently holding its annual poster contest! Please submit an original poster answering the question “What does Equity mean to you?” to the ASUS Core (183 University) by October 14th. Your poster must be accompanied by a 300 word (max) written explanation. The winning poster will be showcased on the ASUS website, Twitter, and Facebook pages, and around campus. 1st prize is $50 to Tricolour Outfitters, and 2nd prize is $25 to Common Ground! Submissions and questions may also be sent to Geneviève, the Equity Officer, at


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why “Feminism” has become the more taboo of the F words

My brother just watched me write that title, and then shook his head. “You’re such a feminist”.

I turned to him. “Do you think women should have the same chance as men to succeed?” 


“Do you think that a woman should not have to choose between personal success and having kids? Do you think that women should be able to live their lives without fearing sexual assault, and not be blamed or ridiculed if they are sexually assaulted?”

“Well yeah, of course”. 

“Then you’re a feminist too”.

Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. That definition comes from bell hooks, an American author, feminist and social activist. The definition she gives is simple and precise. It’s about sexism. It isn’t about hating men – or women, for that matter, who can also be perpetrators of sexism.


So why are many of the people who believe in these very goals so scared of feminism? I’ve often heard from other people, “I’m not a feminist but I support equal pay”. “I’m not a feminist but I believe in equal opportunity.” The thing is, the second halves of both these statements are in line with feminist beliefs. Why are people so afraid to call themselves feminists when clearly the goals of feminism can lead to a better life for themselves and their loved ones? Are they afraid of the stereotypes that come with the description? That they will no longer be attractive to the gender of their desire?  That identifying as a feminist will affect their masculinity or femininity.

Those who are brave enough – because at this point, it does take courage – to declare themselves feminists are mostly met with awkward silence, aggression, or general discomfort. It’s not anyone’s fault. For most people, knowledge of feminism comes third-hand. The problem is that we’ve been raised to equate feminism with being anti-men, anti-nature, and in search of superiority over males. “They” are seen as cold-hearted, bitchy, humorless, bra-burning, loud, and un-feminine. A quick peruse through some forums responding to the question “why do people hate feminism” proves this.


The view of feminism that prevails today is often one that has been handed down through the generations. It’s true that feminism began out of anger towards males – how could it not, when the males in power back then perpetrated blatant injustice involving whether women were even people. However, as time has gone on, the movement has realized that women can also be perpetrators of sexism, and feminism has reshaped itself towards creating gender justice.

After all these negative stereotypes, it’s not surprising that the media and many of the general public are pleased to proclaim that feminism is on the decline. Time magazine even ran a cover story in 1998 asking “Is Feminism Dead?” (the articles inside answered yes). Even though that story is over ten years old, the sentiments remain today. But to say that feminism is declining is to say that there is no longer a need to fight for inequality between men and women. This is incorrect – even the fact that we’re so afraid of feminism shows that there is work to be done in terms of gender equality.

If you believe that women and men have equal rights, think about this…

  • Imagine if men in politics were vastly outnumbered by women, rather than the other way around. Weird, huh?
  • Canada’s child-care programs fall short of commitments and need, meaning that more parents – mostly moms – are forced to stay at home rather than work. For many mothers, having kids means forgetting about career dreams.
  • Like all of my female friends, I usually can’t walk home at night without being made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable by leering groups of guys – no matter what I’m wearing.
  • Sexual assault remains a huge problem, with victim blaming rampant and perpetrators often getting away with it.
  • According to Statistics Canada, women are more likely than men to be the victims of the most severe forms of spousal assault, as well as spousal homicide, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking).

…and those are just a few Canadian examples.

Feminism isn’t perfect – there are issues involving race and class that have fractured the movement. But fear of feminism isn’t going to help deal with these issues. By increasing awareness of what feminism can be, we can help to reclaim the word as something positive for everyone.

There are many different kinds of feminism, and there really is something for every person – whether you are the hands-on kind who wants to get out and be heard, the kind who chooses to support politicians who have a strong women’s rights platform, or the kind who just wants to learn more about feminism by reading some blogs. As bell hooks says in her excellent book, Feminism is for Everybody, “Come closer. See how feminism can touch and change your life and all our lives. Come closer and know firsthand what feminist movement is all about. Come closer and you will see: feminism is for everybody”.

*Note: I have focused above on feminism in Canada in particular. I haven’t even ventured into the extremely important, multi-faceted dimensions of feminism that involve race, religion, class, politics (this will involve a whole other article), and I don’t claim to speak for anyone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This Halloween, please don’t do this.

The following quote can be extended to any costume that claims to represent a certain culture or race. This includes dressing up in blackface, which has been an issue before at Queen’s:

“Dressing up as ‘a Native American’ furthers the already popular notion that they aren’t real, diverse, complex human beings. There’s a reason that dressing up as a white guy isn’t nearly as effective on Halloween; there’s no homogenous vision of what White Guy looks like. If you’ve developed a homogenous vision of a particular race, enough that you could conceive of a good costume, then just fucking stay home for the evening.”

— Choppery (via misobowl)

Posted in ASUS Equity, Equity Issues in the Media, Racism at Queen's | Leave a comment