On Wednesday, I watched Miss Representation, a documentary on the misrepresentation of women in mass media. I had heard about the movie somewhere online, and had been following its campaign on Facebook. What really impressed me on the Facebook feed was/is the interesting articles, opinion pieces and news, and the way this opens up discussion in the comments. So I started looking forward to watching it.
Then the TEDxWomen video of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the writer/director/producer of the documentary, ended up online. As I listened to it, one thing that really bothered me was her tone, and this super soft and slightly tragic way she spoke to the audience. Suddenly the content was completely lost on me, and the only thing I could say was “gaaah!”.
So when I sat down to watch the documentary with my friends, what I didn’t expect was, that she would be talking pretty much the same way, narrating throughout the documentary. However, once you can tune this part out, the documentary is crucial. It is very American, but as several others mention, the American television culture is so dominant, that women all over the world see and experience similar things. One impressive point about the documentary is the unbelievable statistics about women and media, which is regularly reported on blogs such as Feministing, but it has another effect seeing them in one place, letting it sink in.
Another impressive point in addition to the number of strong female figures (not just actresses, but Condaleezza Rice, Rachel Maddow, Nancy Pelosi among them) addressing this issue, was the fact that the documentary also realizes that there is a mirroring misrepresentation of men. It is a gender issue, not only a women’s issue.
As we were discussing the documentary, my friend also mentioned that this isn’t just the media and television, but also a problem in music. This is definitely true, especially in two cases that we were talking about. My friend argued that Rihanna, for a certain demographic, has more of a power than the president of the United States. Thus, the way she behaves, what she does will have a stronger effect on girls and women than say a female president. Not to say that a female president is anything less, but to point out that the visibility of pop stars and the way they dress, talk, address these issues is also tremendously important. It also doesn’t help that women who are good at what they do, for example Nicki Minaj, sacrificing completely to get promoted (She got not only breast implants, but also butt implants. Seriously.)
It is important that all of us look at what we are watching with a critical eye, try to point these out to friends, family, anyone around us, to make sure that we don’t take it as a given, but challenge it. And start this with this documentary; watch it with your critical eye open. It’ll be great practise and a great start.