Buying products from companies that are in alignment with your values … are very strong signals that individuals can send to companies. —Dan Nielsen
Editor's note: The following story deals with sexually-themed subject matter that will not be appropriate for some readers. Discretion is advised.
Before Facebook was born and long before Twitter existed, Jill was opining via T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like: "Not Intended for Decorative Use," "Individual Not for Sale," and "Do Not Participate in Your Own Exploitation."
As a 23-year-old activist in Portland in 1996, Jill (who uses only her first name in her activist work) dreamed of changing millions of minds with her feminist T-shirts decrying society's rampant sexualization of women.
She hasn't taken over the world yet, but she has sold more than 20,000 T-shirts and continues to get emails from individuals who say they've changed their mind about viewing pornography after visiting her site: OneAngryGirl.net.
"I think things are as bad as they've ever been for women in the modern century," said Jill. "I work in a middle school, so I see that played out everyday."
But the problem isn't just pornography — it's an entire culture that sells everything from cleaning supplies to hair products using women's bodies and sexist messages.
Even men are targeted, being painted as sex-crazed Neanderthals, brain-dead wimps or emotionless workaholics through television shows, commercials and movies.
Advocates like Jill encourage individuals to reject those marketing ploys, and to boycott companies that sell products using sexualized slogans or campaigns. She hopes to send the message that conversations about body image, healthy relationships and human sexuality must be grounded in respectful reality — not fiction and financial profits.
"There's a mistaken belief (among) some organizations and entities that they're free from the demands of good citizenship," says Mary Anne Layden, psychotherapist and Director of Education at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. "I hear companies justifying porn because of the mistaken belief that, 'If you can make money from something, it's a good thing.'"
But if enough people start speaking up and expressing concerns, both through letters, comments and purchasing power, companies will listen.
"Consumers have a lot more leverage than they realize," says Dan Nielsen, director of socially responsible investing for Christian Brothers Investment Services, which handles nearly $4.2 billion in assets for more than 1,000 Catholic institutions and has screened out problematic companies, including those that deal with tobacco, weapons, life-ethics issues and pornography.
"Buying products from companies that are in alignment with your values are very strong signals that individuals can send to companies," he says.
Refusing to buy products from companies that perpetuate damaging societal ideas and images is one approach, but it also has to be coupled with education and positive images about healthy sexuality to be truly effective, say media scholars and anti-porn advocates.