One of the central claims made by the documentary, “Miss Representation”, is that mainstream media places emphasis on women’s physical appearance and sexuality rather than on women’s leadership skills and intellect despite how powerful and influential women have been. Several examples of the media’s reduction of powerful women are provided throughout the movie such as a clip from Fox news in which Hilary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, was described as looking haggard and “looking like 92 years old.” Another example was a dialogue on Fox News in which a reporter explicitly brought up mood swings and PMS when another reporter asked him what the downside was to having a woman, Condoleezza Rice, in the oval office. In both cases, and in several examples in the film, women’s intellect is completely brushed aside by the media who choses to focus on women’s physique and sexual appeal. The film states that doing so, affects audiences, especially the U.S. youth, in terms of how they come to place value on themselves, critique other women, and realize women’s leadership opportunities and chances for advancement in the world. It seems that the men who are at the top of the media’s hierarchical system are uncomfortable with the intelligence and ambition of women, they reduce women in the eyes of viewers across the nation by deviating the focus from that of women’s accomplishments and redirecting the audience’s gaze and critique to woman physique.
Another point made by the film was that although women are presented in the media, they are heavily misrepresented as a group, specifically in terms of age representation. The film states that the majority of women in the U.S. are over the age of forty-five. However, the women in the media generally consist of women between the ages of nineteen and thirty-five. One of the speakers in the film explains that it is as if the media were indicating that once a women turns thirty-five, she might as well go die since according to the media she is no longer of importance. This type of misrepresentation is detrimental to the majority of U.S. women, those above the age of thirty-five, since what is being presented to them is not congruent with their reality. It is also harmful for the rest of the U.S population who becomes accustomed to the situation that the media is presenting, the fact that women must look young and fit continuously. Acceptance of this way of thinking then puts additional pressure on women to be youthful which leads women to feel more insecure and preoccupied with their bodies.
An interesting point made by Dr. Felicity Paxton during the post-film discussion was the importance of having a mentor, a mentor that does not particularly have to look like oneself. Dr. Paxton pointed out that had Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, looked for a woman mentor who looked like her and gone to space previously she would not have found one. Dr. Paxton suggests that one should not wait to find mentors of similar sex or ethnic background, but rather look for individuals who are inspirational and can help one accomplish one’s goals.
The issue about the misrepresentation of women in the media reminds me of Samuel A. Chambers article, “Heteronormativity and the L-Word” in which he states that incorporating homosexual characters into certain shows does not mean that there is a challenge being made by those shows in terms of gender roles. I feel that this is the case with women too. Yes, they are no longer always presented as passive characters such as Disney’s Cinderella. Now they are oftentimes presented as being violent, savvy, and manipulative characters in action movies. But this is no reason to rejoice or think that women’s representation has improved in the media. Despite women’s more active and present role in films, female character wit and intelligence is still directly connected to her sexuality and physical appearance in these movies, preserving and reinforcing existing gender roles. So how do we address this? Do we stop watching these films or expose ourselves so we can “critique and question them in their failures to combat heteronormativity”(Chambers, 2006, p 98)? Are women in the same struggle as the LGBT community to challenge these heterosexual norms in order to progress?
Samuel A. Chambers, “Heteronormativity and the L-Word” (2006)
Newsom. Miss Representation. Sausalito, Calif.: Roco Films Educational, 2011.