Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Miss Representation

Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

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?


  1. I really enjoyed the film, too. We shouldn't underestimate our power as consumers to change the way media operates. It may not feel like our decisions not to buy certain products or watch certain television shows will make much of a difference, but it is a first step nonetheless. Like any other business, the corporate media companies depend on our dollars and viewing decisions. As long as that is true, our collective voice has some power to resist the sexism that this film decries.

    Take Wal-mart, for example. After their consumers complained enough about chemicals in their food, Wal-mart initiated a major organic foods movement. They responded to the public voice based on what was best for business. So while the big businesses are undoubtedly in it for money, in this schema it is WE who have the potential power to determine what sells.

  2. How does one see this film if they are not associated with Yale? It would be great to share it with organizations that help support women. Is it available on line?

    Anna Maiden

  3. You can find screenings through Miss Representation's website here: http://www.missrepresentation.org/screenings/

    Schools are encouraged to have screenings of the film. Maybe this is something you could organize for your district!