Smith College hosts event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jean Kilbourne’s ‘Killing Us Softly’

A panel discussed Kilbourne's influence on society

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Smith College hosts event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jean Kilbourne’s ‘Killing Us Softly’

GSUSA Public Policy and Advocacy

GSUSA Public Policy and Advocacy

GSUSA Public Policy and Advocacy

GSUSA Public Policy and Advocacy

By Mak M. Cookis, Collegian Correspondent

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On Thursday evening, September 18th, Smith College hosted an event to celebrate Jean Kilbourne and the 40th anniversary of her film series “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women.”

At the celebration, a panel of renowned individuals, including Jackson Katz, Sut Jhally, Elena Rossini, Byron Hurt, Jamia Wilson, Jennifer Pozner and Susan J. Douglas, joined Kilbourne on stage to recognize the inspiration she instilled in each of them, while further expressing the depths of the impact her work had on their own careers.

“I regularly tell people that you are absolutely foundational to media literacy,” Pozner, the founding director of Women in Media and News said about Kilbourne. “Jean has built a field. There wouldn’t be gender and media studies without Jean and her work.”

The first documentary of the award-winning film series “Killing Us Softly” was released in 1979, followed by the second of the series in 1987, the third in 1999 and the fourth in 2010. These documentaries pioneered both the acknowledgment and study of sexism and objectification against and of women used in advertising.

Amongst her films, Kilbourne has produced numerous writings, including her two 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.” She has also continuously given lectures discussing cruelty of women in advertising.

The event discussed Kilbourne’s role in fundamental changes in the advertising industry and her contributions to alter educational systems to better their prevention of critical public health issues.

I think it is no coincidence that after watching “Killing Us Softly,” I decided not to go into advertising,” Rossini, a professional filmmaker, stated in her reasoning for going into film. “In my eyes, she is a real-life superhero.”

When  Katz, activist for gender violence prevention, was a student at the University of Massachusetts, he read an article about a lecture Kilbourne gave at the school in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

“I still have that article cut out and, in my archives, somewhere, today.” Katz stated that Kilbourne’s work and methods were much like a template he utilized for his own work. “Jean has been generous to women, but also to men, such as myself.”

Each panelist spoke passionately about the effect Kilbourne had on them individually, as well as the profound imprint she made on a society which was formerly blind to the dangers and the subconscious effects because of sexualization of females in the advertising industry. It was an evening that successfully recognized Kilbourne and the significant impact she made on the modern-day view of the objectification of females in media.

In his final statement to Kilbourne, Hurt, acclaimed filmmaker and activist said, “Your work is timeless, it is relevant, and it matters.”

A question and answer session followed after each panelist gave their statements and opened the floor up to discussion. The event ended shortly after 9 p.m.

Mak M. Cookis can be reached at [email protected]