Miss Representation is a 2011 documentary, from Girls Club Entertainment, focusing on how women are portrayed in the media and why there are so few women in powerful, political, positions. The messages in the media start young  as girls get the idea that how they look is most important and boys get this message about girls too.  The media continues to impact this message as children get older particularly in the realm of women in politics.  Women who have either achieved political power or are seeking it such as Condoleezza Rice, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have their appearance or possibility of plastic surgery scrutinized rather than their actual political ideals.

The documentary showed many media clips, but two in particularly stand out as clear examples to what the film as a whole is speaking to.  In including the Dove Evolution advertisement Miss Representation was showing how women are manipulated to look perfect in the media.  The ad, which you can watch here, shows how billboards and other advertisements take normal attractive women and manipulate their image, either digitally or with lighting and makeup, to create an idea of beauty that is impossible to live up to.  The other clip, by comedic dream team Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, shows how the media treats women who are aspiring politicians.  The clip is the 2008 SNL season primer open and can be seen  here.

The documentary begins with one woman, actress Jennifer Siebel Newsom, examining her life after finding out she was going to have a daughter.  She looks at her experience at growing up and becoming an actress as unique experiences of common problems.  Particularly that problem that the media shows limited, shallow portrayal of women which in-turn causes powerlessness in teenage women and girls.

When girls are seen as objects by others and by themselves there is a higher risk of depression, cutting behaviors, eating disorders, lower GPA, and lower cognitive function. The objectification of girls and women leads to a whole generation of women who think they are objects, and are less likely to vote or move towards political power.  In fact women in the United States only make up 17% of congress and have not made any gains in congress since 1979.  Furthermore there are 67 countries in the world who have had female presidents or prime ministers.  As the documentary bluntly put it, America is not one of these countries.

In the film industry, only a very narrow view of women is often seen. Hollywood continually shows the same shallow roles for women and only 16% of protagonists are female.  Furthermore, a majority of these characters are in their twenties or thirties.  Most “chick flicks” show only two different sides to women; looking for love or angry due to sacrificing love for career.   Hollywood continues to promote the idea that women are objects and focuses on physical beauty.  Movies with a G rating show women, girls or creatures like Tinkerbell, wearing just as revealing clothing as R rated movies.

This objectification of women happens on TV too, particularly for female news anchors and on reality TV shows.  Female news anchors wear far more revealing clothing than their male counterparts, although women such as Katie Couric are resisting such trends.  This lack of clothing when delivering the news led Jay Leno to do a bit on his late night show called “newscaster or hooters waitress.”  Miss Representation spoke of reality TV as a contemporary backlash against women.  Reality TV  often portrays women as gold diggers, bitchy and manipulative. In addition, reality TV also portrays women against women violence and shows women being overly critical of other women.  Many reality TV shows foster the notion that the most important thing about a woman or girl is how beautiful she is (Toddlers in Tiaras).

The more power that women gain in society, leads to a stronger backlash against women.  This is seen in how Sarah Palin was portrayed as overly attractive and ditzy in the media and how Hilliary Clinton was often referted to as Mrs. Clinton instead of by her proper title Senator or now Secretary of State.  Furthermore the media in covering political news talks about female politicians as complaining while male politicians are attributed the more favorable term of stated.

In a society where masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity, often in terms of being superior, empowered women threaten men.  The shallow understanding of women and the way our society chooses to look at gender not only harms women.  It also harms men.  The way that we socialize boys in America cuts down on the amount of feelings they can have and does not allow them to grow up to be emotionally literate men.  Boys and men often feel a pressure to be better than women.  This emotional constipation and lack of healthy expression, which is also portrayed in the media, is harming men.

Luckily the documentary left the viewers with plenty of whys to help change the way the media and society views women.

For Everyone

  • Challenge media conglomerates
  • Encourage women
  • Support women
  • Boycott media that is harmful to women
  • Support media that portrays complex diverse real women
  • Recognize the internal strength of women
  • Focus on accomplishments not on looks
  • See movies written and directed by women (best to go first day movie is out)
  • Become media literate
  • Challenge derogatory marks about women

Especially for women

  • Lead your  own vision of what a woman is
  • Don’t be overly critical of other women
  • Be mentors for other women
  • Stop watching reality TV and start reading more books

Especially for men

  • New definition of masculinity (as not better than women)
  • Be free to feel
  • Be an example to other men

Miss Representation premiered in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and can be viewed in hosted screenings throughout Seattle.  To find a screening or to see other ways to take action visit missrepresentation.org.


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