Originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of the Hopkins Undergraduate Research Journal (HURJ).
Everyone knows that sex sells—but is capitalizing on this actually problematic? For many years, feminists have stirred up a storm regarding the way that women are portrayed by the mass media—especially in commercial advertising. Women, exponentially more often than men, are sexualized and objectified, becoming not just objects of desire and affection, but products that can be sold and bought. Consequently, when presented this way, females are looked at in terms of their body parts rather than their personalities—an essentially dehumanizing process. Many assert that objectifying women in order to sell products can impact the way that women are perceived outside of the commercial arena. It is argued that the practice contributes to a wide array of problems including not only personal struggles with self-esteem and psychological illness, but also social traumas like sexual violence. Jean Kilbourne, a pioneer of the movement to raise awareness of objectifying processes in advertising, asserts that “turning a human being into a ‘thing’ is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.”1
Kilbourne’s allegations are not without consequences; thus, it is important to ask whether her assumptions have any factual basis. Are sexualized women actually perceived as objects?