NEWBURYPORT — Nationally known feminist author, filmmaker and speaker Jean Kilbourne drew gasps, laughs and thunderous applause from a rapt audience inside the packed Newburyport Elks Club yesterday afternoon, during her roughly 30-minute presentation at the YWCA Greater Newburyport’s fourth annual fundraising luncheon.
Kilbourne, whose books and television appearances have made her one of the most in-demand public speakers in the nation, didn’t hold back in pilloring this country’s marketing industry that she believes objectifies women, sexes up children and desensitizes men.
YWCA Greater Newburyport officials called Kilbourne a perfect speaker to represent the theme of this year’s luncheon, “body image.”
“This really dovetails nicely with our mission and the work that we do,” said YWCA Greater Newburyport executive director John Feehan.
Kilbourne’s slideshow-based presentation showed plenty of bodies, most of them framed in ways the author called exploitive and sowed the seeds of domestic violence. Slide after slide showed advertisements featuring women whose appearances had been digitally altered or airbrushed to enhance their sexuality or placed in degrading poses, extracting loud gasps from the crowd. Quite often, Kilbourne turned those gasps into giggles by contemplating how the advertisements would come across if they featured men in those poses instead of women.
Kilbourne said the typical person is exposed to 3,000 advertisements a day and will spend two years of their lives watching nothing but television commercials. With that kind of power, advertisers are able to sell values, sexuality and images to people even subconsciously. In all she called today’s advertising world a “toxic cultural environment.”
More than 100 people, mostly women, paid $50 each to listen to Kilbourne’s riveting presentation. The roughly 2-hour event also featured an appearance by Fox 25 News anchor and Groveland native Maria Stephanos and a video sideshow deftly encapsulating YWCA Greater Newburyport’s 130-year history.
“All the Y’s mean something to me; you cannot beat a Y. There’s nothing like it anywhere,” said Stephanos.
The event also gave YWCA Greater Newburyport a chance to honor two local business women, Charlene Dolan and Nancy McCarthy, as this year’s Community Champions.
Dolan, owner of Dolan Financial Services, was recognized for helping countless women achieve financial literacy and stability by teaching them how to achieve financial independence and uncover destructive financial habits that block them from providing security for themselves and their families.
“Often we behave without really understanding why we do what we do,” Dolan said.
As co-owner of Natural High Fitness Club, McCarthy has empowered women by unleashing the inner athlete in them and at the same time providing the inspiration they need to improve their physical strength and endurance, according to YWCA Greater Newburyport officials.
“I’m really honored. Of all the things to be recognized for, this really fits in with what my mission has been,” McCarthy said.
Among those spotted in the crowd at yesterday’s luncheon were Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Ann Ormond, Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday and Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank President Janice Morse.