rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Violence sells? Time to say 'enough' to advertisers

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

From April 15 to 21, Prevention of Violence Against Women Week, guest blogger Joanna Chiu and guest videographer Camila Galdino, produce a series on resisting media representations as a way to prevent violence against girls and women.

Before anyone had even heard of the show Jersey Shore, MTV leaked out a clip of Snooki (Nicole Polizzi) getting punched in a face by a man in a bar, and the clip went viral, prompting articles like "The Countdown to Snooki Getting Punched in the Face Is On!" (trigger warning for link).

The author of that article for Barstool Sports wrote:

"But as much as I enjoyed the first episode it was all overshadowed by the upcoming scenes when Snooki gets coldcocked in the face by a dude. I literally have to take sleep medicine now before I go to bed now just so I can relax and not think about how excited I am for it. Because I'm telling you right now this is destined to go down as one of the greatest moments in the history of television."

MTV waited until the last minute to announce that it wouldn't air the footage, and denied having leaked the clip, despite having included part of the clip in the trailer for the show.

That is just one of thousands of disturbing examples of violence against women being used for decades to promote everything from men's suits to high fashion to vegetarianism (You can thank PETA for that one).

This ad is from the 1950s. Not much progress in depictions of women in advertising has happened since then.

This 2007 ad for Dolce & Gabbana, which became known as simply "the gang rape ad," depicts a man pinning down a woman while other men look on.

Dolce & Gabbana

This isn't just a case of "sex sells." These tactics are continuing to go on and on because advertisers, organizations like PETA and entertainment companies believe that images of violence against women can sell products and influence behaviors.

But millions of media consumers can't all be sadistic women-haters, right? The average person in North America sees 3,000 advertisements per day. I'd much rather believe that many people just don't take the time to critically evaluate advertisements, or to use tools like online petitions to pressure advertisers and media companies to make improvements.

But unfortunately, unless more people stand up to twisted advertising tactics, images of violence against women will continue to proliferate.

Being critical of the media doesn't mean that you have to live in a cave the rest of your life. If you enjoy "guilty pleasure" TV, for instance, there's nothing wrong with watching it. The goal is to transform the way you engage with media so that it has less power to influence you-including your self-esteem for example.

One out of every four college-aged women has an eating disorder, and three minutes spent looking at a fashion magazine caused 70 per cent of women to feel depressed, guilty, and shameful.

Poor self-esteem and body image can lead people to feel depressed, fall short of their potential or tolerate abusive relationships, according to Psychology Today. And when there are thousands of toxic messages in media and advertising that can threaten your sense of self-worth every single day, developing media literacy can actually help you feel happier and be more successful.

It was clear to Adios Barbie co-editors Sharon Haywood, Pia Guerrero and Ophira Edut that promoting media awareness would be a cornerstone in their efforts to promote healthy body image. In addition to providing media commentary on their website and book, Body Outlaws, Adios Barbie editors lead media literacy workshops on topics including body image, race and representation, and violence in the media.

"When we started Adios Barbie in 1998, the general public didn't even know what the term ‘body image' meant. Our intent was to inspire critical thinking around the negative impact media representation has on healthy identity and body image," says Pia Guerrero.

Men suffer from violent and hypersexualized content in media as well, Guerrero argues:

"While the media drills into us the constant message that the role of women is to be submissive to men and be passive sexual objects to be physically admired or consumed, it also sends the message that men are inherently violent, inconsiderate and tough. This representation of both genders has become ‘normal' in our culture and as a result is left unquestioned or accepted."

And if that doesn't sound bad enough, Adios Barbie points out that ads featuring women of colour can reinforce both gender and racial stereotypes, such as this ad for Tiger Beer, which ran in the U.K:

Luckily, Adios Barbie is part of a great variety of innovative efforts to educate the public to be more media aware, including the award-winning film and lecture series by Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women.

So there is hope! Once more people become media aware, the 3,000 advertisements and other forms of media we see every day will have less power to perpetuate things like violence, sexism, racism and body anxiety in our society. Here are some simple steps you can take to take back the power from advertisers today:

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.