“Miss Representation”

“Miss Representation” takes the media as a starting point for the inaccurate perceptions and unrealistic expectations for women in American society.  One of the documentary’s biggest strengths is its consistent utilization of statistics to support its claims.  The very first conclusion drawn was that American teenagers are bombarded media stimulation at an average of 10 hours a day.  It has become more impossible than ever to escape the media and the mainstream.  The documentary continues to demonstrate that media’s messages are motivated by capitalism.  In addition, the upper echelons of American media, meaning Hollywood, and major television and news networks, are dominated by men.  Therefore, the women being presented in media are women as men see them.  To this day, men are bestowed the privilege of action while women can only appear.

The documentary then relates these “misrepresentations” of women to the issue of power and leadership in American society.  It is of importance that the film chooses to investigate these topics because it is exactly power and agency that real women lose through their skewed media counterparts.  Not only is the United States trailing behind other nations in terms of the relative number of female leaders to male leaders, the female leaders that do exist are trivialized by what the media chooses to highlight.  Female politicians, newscasters and executives cannot escape the constant critiques of their physical appearance and their personal lives.  The media either deems these women to be over-sexualized or under-sexualized; women too maternal or not enough.  “Miss Representation” drives home the point that the media does not merely display how men see women; it influences how women see themselves.  Since there are so few women politicians, CEOs and journalists, young women need to find female role models and mentors anywhere they can.

Before the documentary screening, Dr. Felicity Paxton Director of the Penn Women’s Center invited those who have previously see the film to consider what aspect was its driving force for popularity, its “stickiness.”  She described how the film’s accessibility to most young men and women often allows it to be a “gateway drug” for individuals to explore feminism.   Paxton suggested that it was its basis in the media representations of women that convince viewers to value its message.  The audience cannot deny the overwhelming amount and very questionable quality of the media to which they are subjected each day.  Women realize that the female characters on screen are not full, balanced persons like themselves and are not relatable.  Perhaps this film reached such a large and accepting audience because the most blatant misrepresentations of gender take place in the media.

One of the more striking questions posed during the discussion period following the film was whether men have a responsibility to change women’s representation as leaders, especially in the media.  Personally I feel that as men are the majority controlling women’s representations in the media, that their involvement in the path to change is critical.  As voiced by some of the men during the film discussion, mere exposure to documentaries and other sources like “Miss Representation” can spark a heightened sensitivity in men to media’s falsehoods.

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