Author Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., keynote speaker at important event for girls

On Tuesday, May 11, 2010, the Women’s Initiative of United Way and The Investing In Girls Alliance put together a remarkable and powerful program to benefit girls and their families. The event, held at the Worcester Technical High School, began with the Girls Health Expo, which had important information for girls from local organizations. A semi-circle of tables offered resources and encouragement for participation, and girls could meet with representatives from each program, while enjoying some tasty nibbles and beverages.

The keynote address began at 6:45 to an auditorium which held a diverse audience of young girls, teens, educators, and some members of WWHP. Author Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., a pioneer on the study of images of women in advertising, came to discuss how advertising relates to young girls. Her latest book, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents can do to Protect their Kids, is a perfect launch pad for those who realize there is a problem but haven’t quite examined the realm of ads and considered their profound impact on society.

Kilbourne has made a career of doing just that. Using a movie-sized slide show, the audience was shown advertising examples alternating from the 1970’s to the current. Often sexually exploitive, degrading and purposely shocking, gasps were heard when slide after slide revealed imagery that we have become accustomed to, and yet when viewed in succession, one begins to understand the cultural manipulation we are inundated with, and the negative way girls and women are portrayed.

At a time when girls should be free to explore their goals and pursue their dreams uninhibited, they are constantly conditioned through advertising, the sole purpose of which is to sell a product, but they also influence our values and ideals with the margay they present. Considering the average person spends 3 years of their life watching ads, as put by Kilbourne, “Ads may seem trivial but their influence isn’t.” Critical discussion of advertising is not common debate in middle or high school, but after this presentation, we understood it should be.

Lucky enough to briefly speak with Jean Kilbourne prior to her lecture, she being one of the many women to inspire myself, I was thrilled to share with her a little about our wonderful organization - the Worcester Women’s History Project - and our endeavor to uncover women’s historical contributions, and the belief of many of us that women’s true history was an important missing tool towards a young girl’s interest and action. Her response sums it perfectly, “If girls had a deeper sense of the history of feminism and the history of women, they would have a better understanding of real empowerment.”

The potent presentation was full of Kilbourne’s years of expertise and insight and....humor! Several girls stepped up to mics for questions after the slide show, and the author signed books and spoke to the audience after the presentation. Thanks to The Investing In Girls Alliance and the Women’s Initiative of United Way for a very important evening!

Published Date: 
October 4, 2010