Educating my sons about Calvin Klein’s pervasive lie

The new Calvin Klein ads are demeaning and hurtful to women. So how do parents keep their kids from the dangerous messages filtering into their heads from these giant billboards?

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While I adore the big city, with its amazing diversity, scrumptious foods and wide array of entertainment options, today, for one reason, I’m glad I do not live there. The reason: an absurd Calvin Klein ad that has many of us up in arms.

The Calvin Klein billboard showcases a young woman in a very provocative position with the tagline “I seduce in #myCalvins.” To her right is a photo of a man’s face (no body in sight) saying he “makes money” in his Calvins. Another ad in the series shows an “upskirt” photo of a young woman, recasting what is generally considered a violation into a supposedly seductive moment. This is the kind of advertising that is harmful to women and girls, certainly (check out the video below with responses from city dwellers looking at the billboard), but it’s just as harmful to boys and young men to see women presented as “empowered” by virtue only of being scantily dressed.

Watch&nbsp;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yclyOvrVqY" data-mce-href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yclyOvrVqY">the video</a>.<br><br><br><br><br>

Like many three-year-olds, my son notices just about everything I wish he would ignore, and he would definitely notice this billboard. He’s a little too young for the deeper issues, of course, but when he’s ready, we’ll be having many conversations on the subject. Because, while I’d like to think truly distasteful ads like this one are one-offs, the world frequently sends this message, loud and clear, to young men and women everywhere: men have control over their lives, that they can do things like make money or build businesses or run for office; but the best thing a woman can achieve is to be attractive, to be an object of desire. It is a lie that tears down women—and gives men a false sense of superiority. I don’t want my boys growing up with that lie.

Power is the same for men as it is for women: power is what you do, not how you look. And power is nothing without a strong sense of values behind it.”

I’m not alone in decrying the double-standard seen in this ad. The internet is flooded with criticism and outrage over the last few days. But what seems to make the situation even worse is the fact that the model in the ad, Danish-born Klara Kristin, is actually defending the billboard. (In case you’re wondering, the man in the counterpart ad is rap artist Fetty Wop, who has yet to comment on the controversial nature of the campaign.) Kristin calls it “empowering.” But “power” is the same for men as it is for women: power is what you do, not how you look. And power is nothing without a strong sense of values behind it.

“Power” is helping others, standing up for the oppressed, protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Power is serving others with patience and grace; it is turning the other cheek; it is denying oneself for the benefit of another. And as the famous passage in Corinthians reminds us, doing any of these things without love reduces them to nothing:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

I would be heartbroken if my son grows up to believe in the prevalent message that women gain power by removing their clothing—that their power lies in their physical beauty and sexual appeal—and that they don’t have more to offer the world than a glimpse of their underwear. What sort of friend (or husband!) would my son be if he truly believed this about women? What sort of person would he be if he didn’t understand that we all, men and women, serve the world through our actions?

My sons will certainly see many more advertisements, images, and messages that promote the idea that women are meant for pleasure and as objects of one’s lust. When they are older, I will do my best to explain how damaging this ideology is, and my hope is that they will grow up to fight against this pervasive lie. It will take time and continued effort for me to go against the cultural grain, even just inside my own home.

I will teach my sons that true beauty comes from within. It stems from a heart that is joyful and kind, a heart that seeks to make peace with, and encourage others. A beautiful soul is one that loves others wholly, unselfishly, with a grace and courage that comes from God Himself. I want my sons to know that while physical beauty is a lovely gift, it is fleeting and will not last. That the same principles of inner beauty that are true for women are true for the men in our lives, also—for their actions to be worthwhile or meaningful in any way, for their efforts to be lasting, they must be fueled by and done in love.

Ashley Jonkman
Ashley Jonkman
Ashley is a freelance writer and editor. She lives with her husband, two sons and two rambunctious dogs in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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