Miss Representation

(watch the whole thing on Netflix!!)

I’m so glad we got to watch this documentary (if only partly) in class, I’ve had it on my Netflix queue for months now without watching it! It definitely works as a summary for our class, but I also think it’s a great film for anyone to watch as an introduction to the subject as well. The general theme or message of the film is perfectly summarized by it’s tagline: “you can’t be what you can’t see”, and just like this women and pop-culture class, the film discusses the enormous impact and influence the media has on its audience.

In the film, high school girls talked about the immense pressure they have on them, and the media is a big part of that pressure. Girls feel like they have to be like the women they see in the media; skinny, pretty, sexy etc, using all sorts of beauty products and accessories to fit into the generic “standard” of what a woman/girl should be. Not only are girls being harmed by these media-created standards, but boys too, because they start to expect girls and women to be like the ones they see in the media. Of course, the big winner in all of this is the advertisers. They profit when young girls feel insecure and depressed about themselves, not , because in order for the girls to feel better, well, they just have to buy whatever it is they’re selling, because basically, the selling point for every product is that if you use/eat/do this, then you’ll become like the pretty, sexy, skinny girls you see in the advertisement!

But, as the film point out, the even more pressing problem is that when girls feel insecure and depresses, they get lower self-esteem, don’t have as much ambition and more often feel like their voice doesn’t matter. This is a huge issue because it affects the way girls and women tackle leadership and positions of power. The film mentions some significant statistic, namely that girls/women are less likely to vote and seek out a political career than boys/men. When 7 year old are asked if they would like to be presidents when they grow up, almost an equal number of boys & girls say yes, but when asked the same question at age 15, more boys than girls want to become presidents. This goes hand in hand with the tagline again, how can girls feel like they can become presidents when they don’t see it happening in reality or in media like movies and TV shows?! If media doesn’t show women in leadership positions, girls don’t believe they can reach it, and I can totally understand that. It’s easier to relate to someone who is like you in appearance, social class, status, age etc, and so when you never see people like yourself in powerful positions, it’s hard to believe that you can make it. The media makes it seem like women can’t be presidents and leaders, and so real women and men believe it too.

“Miss Representation” also points out other obvious misrepresentations of women and girls that we have discussed in class, like the fact that women are often portrayed as sex objects to attract male viewers. By showing  tricking girls and women to feel empowered by tropes like the fighting fuck toy, which again is just a sexy woman to get men to watch a movie/TV-show with a female protagonist (because there is this crazy belief that women like to watch male-centered stories, but men don’t like to watch stories about women). The film also brings up the phenomenon that the media almost always makes it seem that a woman’s goal in life is to find a man (this is especially true for most animated, kid-friendly movies). I’m used to seeing and noticing these kind of misrepresentations now, but the film also pointed out one thing that I actually hadn’t paid much attention to: the majority (71%) of women on TV are in their 20’s and 30’s, but in reality that age-group represents only about 30% of all women! This was something that really passed me, but I just now realized that it’s so true!! And something that bothers me even more, that I never thought about before, is that the majority is supposed to be 20-30’s, even though the actresses portraying them are much older, they still have to appear to be that “appealing” age!

I appreciated the link the film did between media’s representation and women and how it affects their attitude towards power and leadership, because that is the crux in the whole situation. In order for anything to change, women have to be in power along with men, behind the scene, on screen, in the writer’s room, on the news coverage, in the CEO’s office, in the senate – everywhere! But then again, when media constantly portray women as inferior to men, how are we supposed to believe that can make a change? Patriarchy is the default setting of our society, and media keeps pressing down that button, so a first step towards change would be to change the media: change starts where people are, and people are watching TV!

(Originally posted on 2014/12/07 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)

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