When I first heard about the film Miss Representation, I knew it would be right up my alley, but for some reason it sat on my DVR for a few months after appearing on OWN. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to watch it, it was that I could not find the time to watch it (story of my life). So, when I heard about an event in the city featuring both a showing and a talk back with Catherine Connors as moderator, I found myself immediately booking a ticket online with fervent anticipation of the evening. Both a feminist and a pop culture junkie, I knew this was a film I had to see.
In the film, some of the world’s most influential women are brought together to explore the media’s message and depiction of women. That list includes Gloria Steinem, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Dawson and Gloria Steinem, but it also includes superstar feminists like Jennifer Pozner and other members of the Women’s Media Center. The film tells us that women are under-represented in every form of media, but also in real life. It takes the stand that the media is portraying our primary values as youth and beauty over intellect and the ability to lead.
As the mother of a nine year-old who is definitely approaching puberty at lightening speed, I’m well aware of the challenges she’s up against and I want to shield her from as much pain as much as possible.
This film confirms that we have a rough road ahead.
It’s not a very encouraging film in the way of reality and truth, but it is so important. It drills in how hard it is for girls today. Images projected on TV and elsewhere make young girls less confident about who they are. Add that to the existing peer pressure, and the pressure is two fold. How can one be good enough faced with these images? The stats are heart-breaking: 53% of young girls are unhappy with their bodies; 65% of women and girls have an eating disorder; and girls and women face rising rates of depression. I sat there watching it thinking to myself, how will I raise my daughter’s self-esteem in light of these statistics? Girls measure themselves against impossible standards these days, as they are becoming more and more self conscious. In a society where anorexic stars and models are the norm, they have distorted images of their own beauty.
The film leaves us with so many thoughts and messages. It tells us that we can imagine a better world for our daughters, but in order to do so, we must challenge the media and encourage girls to discover their power. It leaves us with this powerful quote:
BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD. – Mahatma Gandhi
After the film, Catherine, who I am fortunate to have met and look up to in the world of social media and as a writer, continued the theme of the film with her panel that included Dr Peggy Drexler, the author of “Our Fathers Ourselves. Daughters, Fathers and The Changing American Family, Anneka Fagundes, a senior educator for the Girls Leadership Institute (GLI) and Dr. Fred Kaeser, the author of What Your Child Needs to Know About Sex and When: A Straight Talking Guide for Parents. Catherine rightly stated at the front of the conversation the film is discouraging but that it confronts very important issues and that they are overwhelming. Dr. Drexler felt that the film is biased, that girls are actually doing better than boys. There are more girls enrolled in Graduate School, for example. Dr. Kaesar told us to talk to our kids honestly and openly, from a young age. Talk to them about sexuality, harassment, look them in the eye and address these important issues. We need to be the one to educate our children and not wait for anyone to do it. Anneka reiterated that the media does send powerful messages but that we can use them to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong.
I was happy when Catherine turned the discussion to boys, as I have one of my own. Boys also need to be encouraged at a young age, so that they don’t follow the stereotypes projected in media. They also need to be educated and spoken to directly about the issues at hand. This also got me thinking about my own young son and how I want to steer him in the right direction. It might just be time for another film called Mr. Representation.
Tens of thousands have already taken the pledge to challenge the media’s portrayal of women and girls everywhere, and even more are joining the campaign on Twitter and Facebook. These small actions are making a big difference. Together we are amplifying the voices of women and girls everywhere, motivating men and boys to stand up to sexism, and taking steps to shift our culture towards equality. Join the campaign today!
Disclosure: I paid my admission to this film and did not attend as media for any publication but my own.