Sociology can look at things on a large or small scale. The rate of illiteracy in American society is something which can be studied using either macrosociology or microsociology. A macrosociologist such as Dr. Kilbourne would look at why literacy rates are lower in some communities and higher in others. A microsociologist would instead find out why certain individuals in that community are illiterate. Macrosociology holds up a mirror to society at large while microsociology examines life up close and personal.
Conflict theory is used as a tool of macrosociology. This theory highlights the imbalances that take place in social groups. Karl Marx is considered the creator of conflict theory. He used conflict theory to showcase the injustices that develop when the rich have so much power over the poor. Jean Kilbourne used conflict theory to point out how visual images of women in advertising can lead to inequality among the sexes. Women and even girls are often shown as hypersexual, vulnerable, unsure, and in need of men to lead and control them.
The premise of Kilbourne’s research was that the way women are shown in advertising has a negative impact on how women are perceived by men and by themselves. Her theory is that the images of women submissive and/or sexualized can lead to various negative consequences. Doctor Kilbourne tested her theory using the scientific method. She made use of various research methods to help determine the validity of the theory. One research method she used was to examine existing data. The images she collected from magazines and other sources already existed. She gathered them over a period of years in a longitudinal study. She also studied statistics regarding incidences of battering, rape, and other crimes against women. The examination of the collection of images coupled with statistical analysis led her to see a real correlation between the media portrayal of women and violence.
Doctor Kilbourne also made use of intensive interviewing. Her friends would come over and see her collection of images which she had gathered over time. The friends would ask her what the images meant. She would reverse this by asking them what they believe the images represent. The conclusions reached during these interviews supported her theory that the photos and graphics can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and various health issues.
A paucity of images exists in advertising which display males in a sexualized fashion. The numbers have increased but according to Dr. Kilbourne, this has not led to any negative consequences for men. Doctor Kilbourne started her research in the 1960s. For decades, she has pointed out the hurtful consequences of the way in which females are pictured in the world of advertising. Very little has changed in that time. This can be seen in advertisements from a wide variety of companies: Deutsch Magazine, JBS Men’s Underwear, New York Health & Racquet Club, Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford for Men, and many others. The products being promoted include health clubs, underwear for men, and cologne. It does not seem to matter what the product is. All that seems important to advertisers and their clients is to sell the goods however necessary. The way to sell such items back in the 1960s was to couple them with sex. Advertisers today continue to sell sex without regard for the repercussions to half the world’s population.
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