Jean Kilbourne

Jean Kilbourne ’64

Media Activist, Filmmaker, Author

Jean Kilbourne ’64 is a leader in the contemporary feminist activist movement.  She is internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work over the past 40 years raising public awareness of how women and young girls are portrayed in the media.  Kilbourne’s work was among the first that explored the connection between advertising and public health, including its relation to tobacco and alcohol addictions, eating disorders and violence towards women.  Simply put, Kilbourne changed the way we view advertising.

As the creator of the critically acclaimed documentary film series, “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women,” Kilbourne exposed the pervasiveness of negative images of women in popular culture and the exploitative nature of the advertising industry. As an advocate for public health, Kilbourne has created documentaries that highlight the social impact of how the media glamorizes alcohol and tobacco use to consumers.

In addition to her film work, Kilbourne is the author of several books including Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel in which Kilbourne discusses advertising’s effects on gender roles, alcohol, substance addiction, relationships and the objectification of women and men.  This book won the 1999 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association of Women in Psychology.

Kilbourne has received numerous awards, including one of Boston University’s highest alumni awards in 2009, the National Eating Disorder Association’s Profiles in Living Award in 2010, and in 2012 the Common Sense Media Award for her landmark work advocating for women and girls in the media.  In 1995 Kilbourne received the WIN (Women’s Image Now) Award from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), whose previous recipients include Barbara Walters and Betty Furness. 

Kilbourne has served as an advisor to two Surgeons General and in 1993 was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.  Kilbourne holds the honorary position of Senior Scholar at the Wellesley College Centers for Women.

Kilbourne was recently featured, along with several well-known feminists, in the 2011 film, Miss Representation, a film described as a “crash course in media literacy for the Internet generation.”   She was also highlighted in the PBS series Makers: Women Who Make America that interviewed 100 women “pioneers who have shaped the world in which we live.”

An avid lecturer on college campuses, Kilbourne has twice received the award for “Lecturer of the Year” by the National Association for Campus Activities and The New York Times Magazine has recognized her as one of the three most popular speakers on college campuses.

An English major at Wellesley, Kilbourne received a Master’s and Doctorate in Education from Boston University.

Click here to view the photos of the ceremony, and here to watch the video.