The 2011 documentary directed and co-written by Jennifer Siebel Newson reveals the alarming landscape of American media in which women are consistently dehumanized and rendered objects prized for their physicality and little more. In a reactionary time with women’s rights constantly under attack and underrepresentation in government positions, this film provides shocking statistics and evidence of the media’s unregulated power and ability to shape cultural norms. It is a necessary wake-up call and call for action to change how women are perceived and treated. In a society where domestic abuse could be considered a pre-existing condition by insurance companies until this year and one in six women are victims of attempted rape or rape, the time for advocacy and policy change is drastically overdue.
Skillfully written and directed, Miss Representation features an array of academics, politicians, directors and women in media. Newsom also interviews young girls and boys, providing us with their real-life experiences of discrimination and pressure from the media to look and act within certain paradigms.
The media clips and images speak for themselves, as do the startling statistics:
- Women hold only 5% of clout positions in mainstream media.
- Women comprised 9% of directors and 15% of film writers in the top 250 grossing films of 2012.
- The United States is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures.
- Women hold 18% of the seats in Congress (the equivalent body in Rwanda is over 50% female).
- Women are merely 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
- About 25% of girls will experience teen dating violence.
- 65% of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviors.
Some of the most disconcerting scenes in this documentary feature clips of female politicians on news shows, which themselves have become little more than sensationalist purveyors of pop-culture. The reduction of women in power to “bitches” or “nags”, and the amount of criticism they receive regarding their physical appearances versus the content of their speeches are staggering. In a culture where only 17% of protagonists in film are female, and those that are often appear as sexual eye candy, it is not surprising that violence against women is so prevalent. First objectified, then dehumanized, women in these images convey very specific directives to young boys and girls growing up within our culture. Miss Representation presents us with the facts and also offers ways to facilitate change. Visit the film’s site for resources, statistics and advocacy projects.
Angela Sundstrom received her MFA in poetry from The New School in NYC. She freelances book reviews for Time Out New York and her poetry has been featured on The Best American Poetry blog. She has a mini-dachshund named Sir Winston who is a lovely misanthrope.