Thursday, January 19, 2012

Miss Representation - You can't be what you can't see

*Note, some scenes are somewhat graphic. Thought you deserved a warning!

Last night, I had the privilege of viewing this film at the Utah Museum of Fine Art (UMFA) with a handful of friends. It premiered at Sundance last year, and since then I’ve heard nothing but excellent feedback about the issues it addresses. I scoured their website, tracking where they were showing it next, and was very happy when I discovered the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah was hosting a screening. 

Naturally with a documentary addressing equity issues, particularly that of women as they are portrayed in the media and how that, in turn, effects gender parity in the United States, one must mull over the issues and concepts for awhile. Particularly, I wanted to reconcile what I believe are the innate gender differences and dare I say “roles” of women as a fundamental unit of society as well as the natural born nurturers, comforters, and champions of family, children’s rights, and social justice with the call for women to break through the administrative glass ceiling and become powerful voices in leadership, commerce, and business. I feel that these two concepts of womanhood and ability are complimentary to each other though difficult to balance.

 However, I also feel that extreme feminism has eroded the role of men as community contributor, providers, and dare I say protectors? We can all agree that any stance, even in such arenas as social justice, freedom, and democracy, taken to the outer extremes becomes not harbingers of peaceable solutions and the equitable pursuit of happiness, but  instead ignites greater tyranny, contention, and loss of individuality.  Fanaticism and extremity in any respect is dangerous.  That said, the movie was somewhat extreme in my mind in a few respects. That's to be expected. A rallying cry is a yell and not a whisper.

I also want to say; I have always had issue with the idea that society and the media both view being a homemaker is somehow not living up to your womanly potential in a modern world. That if you are not working an 8-5, that you are not only dim-witted or lack depth, but that you are somehow hampering the feminist movement simply by keeping house and raising children. Thus, I think it’s important to show the immeasurable value a homemaker contributes to her home, her community, and the future of the country. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is good mothering (whether that is full time in the home or not) that will make or break a nation on every possible level.

I also have the perception that being a feminist is construed as being a “man-hater.” That if you claim to value women’s rights and participate in the women’s movement, (or run for President of the United States or hold leadership positions in government at ALL), you are therefore a man-hater as well. I look towards the day when claiming to be a feminist is not also claiming to be a man-hater. Wanting to forward the cause of the historically disadvantaged is not inversely a cause to disadvantage or loathe another group. I also feel that claiming to be a feminists means you must not desire to fulfill a role of wife and mother. I say Feminists Are Mothers and Wives too! I am part of a religion that refers to a married couple as companions. Companion. Partner. Match. Someone you have equally yoked yourself with to trudge through this journey called life. Though many would view my religion as “traditionally patriarichal” in the sense it somehow does not allow equitable expectations, treatment, or recognition of its woman members and prefers them submissive, quiet, and complacent. I say to YOU, you have never been more wrong. I recommend watching a single session of General Conference and observing how the male leaders of my church rever, respect, and adore the women of the church. And they adore them in a way that is valuable, uplifting, and beautiful.  The sanctity of women in my religion is ingrained in its every principle and precept. Here’s a good example: LDS Women are Incredible.

ANYWAY! All that said…

 The film, Miss Representation, focused very particularly on the media influence of the societal perception of women and how that perception has hindered the cause for equity and to just plain be taken seriously.  I ardently agree that the overt sexualization of women and the unrealistic and entirely unattainable standard of “beauty” portrayed through and enabled by the media that not only objectifies women and therefore devalues their contribution to society, but communicates to the rising generation of women that their ambitions and goals to become leaders in their community is not valuable to a hyper-sexualized society. That a woman’s worth lies solely within the length of her hair, the shape of her body, and the plumpness of her breasts is reinforced daily through an onslaught of mediums including billboards, television shows, movies, advertisements, clothing stores, and even news broadcasts. And because the perceived societal promulgation of woman’s value as purely aesthetic is so ingrained in our collective psyche, when a woman rises to a position of leadership, she is labeled a bitch; whereas if a man rises to positions of leadership, he is ambitious. A woman in leadership is not heralded or critiqued because of her stance on policy, but rather, her pant suits or hairstyle. Even when looking up pictures of powerful women’s in the United States  and beyond on Google image, the “suggestions” for my search were “Katie Couric, sexy… Ann Curry, hot…. Michelle Obama, hot… Hillary Clinton, nut crusher…”

Face the Facts; Did you know?

…The United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

I repeat: women hold 3% of clout positions in mainstream media. Curious, isn't it? That the media's positions of clout is held by 97% by men. Think about that.

This is just one small factoid of many presented throughout the film that adds credence to the claims that though women have made significant strides in achieving equity and credibility in social and political forums, there is clearly much more that needs to be done; and that includes addressing the role the media plays in that perception. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the media is responsible for the stagnation of women’s movement in the last 5 years with its skewed and incredibly damaging portrayals of women in the media. And the media IS incredibly powerful. So what’s to be done?

My favorite part of the film was a call for women to become mentors and support mechanisms to each other.  Marie Wilson, Founder and President Emeritus of The White House Project, stated, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” The media is the most pervasive medium through which society, through which women, integrate social expectations and perceptions, how will they ever find value outside of “sexy, hot, and hips” if the media is their only window? Through us. Through the women who have had these experiences and understand the pressure, the internal conflicts, and the personal anguish that forces us to have eating disorders, cut ourselves, be depressed or anxious, nip, tuck, pluck, and bake our bodies to societal perfection. Of course, I believe that we need to express our femininity and beauty and not hide those qualities and unique attributes that make us women. I do not want women to become men. I want women to find their worth and value beyond the realm of the aesthetic and create a more holistic perception of a woman who is valued for her intellectual, spiritual, emotional, AND physical beauty. A confident woman, no matter her dress or hairstyle, is a beautiful woman.

As for me and my own experiences. Can I tell you how many times I've been told I'm not married (oh heaven forbid ;)) YET, because I am "intimidating." Intimidating. Or how many meetings I've been a part of where I've been interrupted by a man or talked over or not even addressed as part of the group? I remember thinking in 5th grade that I had "fat thighs." In 5th grade! I've had friends with eating disorders, depression, rooted bitterness, resentment, and anguish simply because they were not meeting a completely unattainable standard the media has passed off as "the norm." Something must change.

Find a screening near you.
Go see it.
Be the change!


Becca said...

Have I already recommended to you Susan Douglas's Where the Girls Are? It's a look at how women have been portrayed in the media, from Snow White & Rosie the Riveter on up. Very interesting read, though I think her more extreme claims are grasping at straws.

I think the perception of women in this society is so messed up. Maybe messed up beyond repair.

I don't really think it's a problem that women make up such a small percentage of the legislature. I'm old fashioned. I tend to think that a high-profile political career is not something most women are interested in, and that's OK. What I find extremely disturbing and disappointing is that without women in the legislature, our voice isn't heard (even with women IN the legislature, I think a terribly skewed version of the "American Woman" is represented) at all. Without some serious lobbying, the men in politics wouldn't even think to consider how their legislation affects the female portion of their public. They are representative only of the things that affect the male world. So it goes. Blah. Gender politics make me feel ookey. That's a word I just made up.

Andrea Jolene said...

Becca - what's funny is I said the same thing. Yes, I think we need more "voice" and representation but as politics go, perhaps it doesn't appeal to women on the whole. The movie makes the argument that that "non-appeal" is part of the gender socialization. Be that as it may, women need to be at the decision making table and I hope that we can have the confidence enough in ourselves to be those leaders in any faucet of our lives! I think women care more about their own local communities thus, why not have change happen from the "ground up" so to speak.