Monday, April 2, 2012

Must-watch: Miss Representation

After months and months of searching spurred on by my friend's post on this in October, I finally got myself to a local screening of Miss Representation yesterday. The film explores the role of women in society, power and media and also discusses the history of female portrayals in the media.

The film had a personal start—Jennifer Siebel Newsom was pregnant with her first child, a girl, and was concerned over the society her child would be raised in. Yes, a lot has changed over the years, but at the same time, it's amazing how little it has changed.
  • There is less diversity (in types of roles and occupations, etc.) in female leads in today's films than female film protagonists in the 50s. Even "strong" female action heros conform to the male definition of sexiness (you can't fight crime without a corset).
  • The U.S. is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures. Rwanda, Iraq and China all have more women in their legislatures than the U.S.
  • The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth 18 or younger more than tripled from 1997 and 2007.
  • Women in the public eye are more likely to be judged for their appearance and beauty than men. Media often jumps straight to how a female looks rather than their qualifications.
  • Women are also often pitted against each other even when competition isn't there, creating the perception that we are working against each other, when in reality women are often each others' biggest supporters.
The film also talked to teen girls about their experiences and their perceptions of being a woman today. It was both heartbreaking and encouraging. These girls want to be taken seriously and recognize that women are unfairly treated. And yet, they are hard on themselves and on their own bodies even though they are beautiful and smart. One girl, who couldn't have been older than 15 or 16 years old, shared about her younger sister, who was depressed and cutting herself because she was not happy with her own body.

So what can we do? I came away from the screening with a few ideas to apply to my own life.
  • Stop judging other women based on their looks. I am extremely guilty of falling into the trap of criticizing other womens looks in private, especially when they are on my television or in my magazine. Even though the things I say to myself or to my friends and spouse will likely never reach the ears of the individual, the attitude of judgement is toxic and is probably the thing I like least about myself (the quick rush to judgement). I also want to stop jumping to judgement of women who do opt for cosmetic procedures or do things to make themselves look or feel better (in their opinions).
  • Support and encourage other women in their endeavors. I love watching other women succeed, and in fact these women are my role models, but I could be better about encouraging those in my own life and helping publicize those I see online. The disparity between the 51% of Americans who are women and the 17% of Congress that is female is huge, and though I don't have political aspirations myself, I hope that those of you who do are not afraid to throw your hat into the ring. I don't believe in voting for women because of their gender (I'm more of an issues person), but more women on the ballot means more choices and more chances for fair representation.
  • Be an example by showing my satisfaction with the body and beauty I've been given. It is extremely heartwrenching for me to hear girls and women (including my friends) talk about their dissatisfaction with their physical traits, especially when I know they are beautiful. This dissatisfaction is so pervasive and accepted that I think a lot of women who are happy with their looks are ashamed to let others know they are happy with the way they look. It makes me even more aware of what I put on this blog, too, and while I have never espoused a certain body or beauty type, I'm reassessing any subliminal messages I might be sending and how to intentionally send a solidly positive message.
As you can tell, this film touched me tremendously. I highly recommend that you watch it, too.

Check out the trailer:


 Find a screening in your area here, or find out how to host one.

Have you seen Miss Representation? How do you feel about the role of women in the United States today? What else can we do to make the world better for girls and the future?

7 comments:

  1. i didn't much like "miss representation" but probably because 1. there was no new information in there for me and 2. i HATED her voice over. but i did think it was important that as many people see this movie as possible.

    one thing i think we should do is really look at our less obvious double standards. why don't women need to register with the military upon turning 18? why do bars and clubs have ladies night where women get free drinks or no cover charge? why do most people (women too!) think men need to pay for the first date? why do women get maternity leave but men don't get paternity leave? why do women get engagement rings when men don't? why do most of us have our husband drive when we go out? or even if you share a banking account, why have him put down the credit card when paying for dinner? ...the list goes on!!

    women aren't more fairly represented because as a society we don't believe we're actually equal to men. that's why we get away with all kinds of stupid sexist bullshit (men also get away with stuff too but that's a different conversation). but you can't get all the positives without also taking on some of the negatives. it's not enough to just support women, you have support men too, you can't have true equality otherwise.

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    1. I agree that there wasn't much new information (tho the FCC and media deregulation stuff was new to me), but I just really enjoyed the way it was presented and the various perspectives shown. Womens issues are nothing new.

      Double standards...YES. I've been thinking about that a lot, especially since this year for the first time, we watched the entire season of the Bachelor (and part of the Bachelorette season before this). I can't for the life of me figure out why the Bachelor must propose, while the Bachelorette gets proposed TO. Haven't we evolved beyond that by now? I'm not sure all of those examples qualify as double standards (does it really matter who puts down the credit card if it's both your money?), but I do think the double standards are everywhere, we've just become immune or used to it. Some of these I think women have to take the first stand on, such as the ladies night and stuff—-we can't have both adequate representation and still expect our drinks to be paid for. I'm surprised ladies night is legal, actually, though I think some guys have already tried to fight against it in the courts.

      It's true that the change will not happen just with women, but with men, especially since it's obvious that they still control much of the conversation. I like that the film wasn't all "power to women, down with men" because, as you said, that would never work. It's about supporting those who support equality. That's where my vote goes.

      Good discussion...I love hearing your perspective on this!

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    2. yeah, i've wondered about the proposal situation on the bachelor too (tho i usually wonder why there are barely any people of color! [turns out they'll be a black bachelor next season. tho will they only have black bachelorettets? and what will the backlash be if he chooses a white bachelorette?!)

      one guy did file a court case against the sexism of ladies night tho i can't remember if he won (i hope he did!). but that bring up that point that we need to fight the stereotypes / inequalities ourselves before we can expect companies and institutions and stuff to fight for it on our behalf.

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    3. I remember at UCI there was some bru-ha about the fact that ladies got into frat parties for free but guys didn't...I don't think anything changed.

      People of color in media is a whole other can of worms. The whole "white default" in Hollywood and the media is ridiculous. I had no idea the next bachelor was black, but I'm also curious how that will play out, too!

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    4. gah! speaking of "white default". what REALLY irks me is that movies will cast like one black dude in an otherwise all white cast and be like "see? we're not racist!" ...um no, all that does is highlight just how racist you really are! also, casting non-whites in non-speaking roles doesn't count either!

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  2. I can't wait to see Miss Representation. Even though I attended a women's college and feel pretty well-versed in issues related to feminism, there's always more to learn.

    Angeline, I think you've done a great job at highlighting some everyday ways women (and men) can fight sexism by adjusting our attitudes, our words, and our behaviors.

    I think it's also important to think about *why* we feel and think the way we do about things like body image and the appropriateness of 'ladies night' (etc). Babcock and Laschever's book Women Don't Ask focuses on women (not) negotiating their salaries, but it also has some fascinating chapters on gender socialization and how even explicitly feminist parents usually raise daughters who end up believing they're not equal with men. (Google books preview: http://books.google.com/books?id=k6vd7PJUFmYC&lpg=PA67&vq=socialization&dq=women%20don't%20ask&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false )

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    1. That book is on my to-read list! Better bump it up to the top. I think even the most well-meaning and enlightened parents are products of their generation's gender biases.

      I can't wait for you to see the film, and really want to hear what you think about it afterward. I don't think that the facts presented are at all surprising, but I really like the conversation it's opened up about action.

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