Miss Representation

One of the central claims made in “Miss Representation” was that because the society tells women that the only thing that is important about them is their bodies. This focus causes women to self-objectify, and thus have lower political efficacy—the idea that you can have an effect on government. The movie discusses how women are treated in the media increasingly as sex objects how critical it is of the way women look. The movie demonstrates this phenomenon through showing statistics that suggest that there are higher rates of depression, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and dissatisfaction with one’s body have all increased as our world becomes increasingly mediated. Women who feel this way are less likely to believe that their voice matters, decreasing political efficacy.
Another central claim made in the film was that female politicians are not judged by the same standards as male politicians. They are judged based on their looks to a greater degree than male politicians are. They demonstrate how Hillary Clinton had to struggle with this both during the 2008 Democratic Primaries and during her tenure as Secretary of State. There were clips shown of news casters talking about how “old” she looked or how she was dressed. They also brought up Sarah Palin, who presented herself as extremely feminine, who was treated as a sexual object throughout the 2008 campaign. This included Tracy Morgan’s now famous comment that she was “good masturbation material”. The movie makes the point that because we as a society destroy women in positions of power in the media, women are thereby discouraged from seeking those positions.
One provocative point made by Dr. Felicity Paxton in the discussion after the event was the importance of having not only women in power, but progressive women in power. She gives the example of Margaret Thatcher in England. It was great that she became prime minister, but she neglected to bring other women up with her. So, of the hundreds of appointments she made, apparently only about 5 were female. Paxton noted that if we get women in power who are not committed to the advancement of women, progress doesn’t get made. This is a common feminist perspective that is familiar to me based on my work with political parity over the summer with the National Women’s Political Caucus, and is something I agree with. Putting a Sarah Palin or a Margaret Thatcher in office doesn’t help the overall goal of gender equality at all. As a consequence, we need to look at each woman specifically and ask ourselves “Is this a woman who will help other women?”
A question that comes to mind for me is “should these damaging images be suppressed completely?” While Miss Representation seems to suggest that we should have policy changes to regulate what is shown on television, Dreamworlds 3 suggests that these images are fine as long as there are other ideas in the marketplace. Personally, I agree with Jhally—complete suppression of this viewpoint would be censorship.

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