Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see a screening of Miss Representation sponsored by the Yale Women's Center. It was fantastic!
The film Miss Representation explores depictions of women in the media. The thesis of the film is aptly stated by comedian Margaret Cho, who says, "The media treats women like shit." Utilizing depressing examples of contemporary media, interviews with journalists, politicians, academics, actresses and high school students, and director Jennifer Siebel Newsom's own personal narrative, the film argues that the media depicts women as passive sex objects and teaches women and girls that their value lies solely in their beauty and sexuality.
The thesis of the film should not come as a shock to any woman or man who has ever watched television for more than five minutes. But the compilation of sexualized media images, coupled with some shocking statistics and brutally honest interviews makes the film incredibly powerful. I teared up when listening to girls talk about their eating disorders, laughed out loud after one expert labeled female superheros "flying fuck toys" and cringed at the clips of female journalists, who have to look like supermodels (hello Fox News barbie!).
Newsom identifies patriarchy and capitalism as the forces that drive our sexist and sexualizing media. She argues for increased media literacy, encourages everyone to speak out against and not support companies/shows/films that use harmful and misogynistic depictions of women, and tells women that they need to stick together and support one another. While some viewers may feel that the film doesn't give enough direction to move forward, I felt that a call for increased awareness and media literacy, and a call to boycott negative media or companies that promote/use negative images in their media is actually a helpful (and in reality difficult) plan of action.
Screenings of Miss Representation are followed by discussions, and our discussion was very rich and thought provoking. Some of the issues we discussed were:
-- White women "experts" got more air time than women of color.
-- The film hinted at, but didn't explicitly address, issues of race and sexuality.
--The media is certainly harmful, but when addressing issues like the number of women in politics, the film failed to mention other systems and factors that perpetuate women's oppression, such as assumptions about caretaking responsibilities and lack of access to maternity leave or child care.
-- Women should support each other! But the film uses Twilight's director, Catherine Hardwicke, as a success story. Twilight is a film with a weak female lead and very problematic gender roles. Films aren't good-- or more accurately, feminist -- just because a woman directs or writes it.
-- A portion of the film devoted to women in journalism examines the way female journalists are expected to look like sexy supermodels. I felt at times it bordered on slut shaming. Women shouldn't be expected to be sexy or valued solely for their looks, but if a woman is smart and sexy that shouldn't be a problem. It shouldn't make her less of a serious journalist because she is sexy, and we shouldn't spend our time criticizing anyone for wearing a short skirt or a low-cut top.
Critiques aside, I thought Miss Representation was a great film. I highly encourage everyone to go see and support it if you haven't already! And if you have seen it, what did you think?