I recently had the opportunity to view screener copies of Miss Representation, a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and Menocracy, directed by Gretchen Kelbaugh.Miss Representation explored the idea that “the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence”, andMenocracy highlighted the need for, benefit of, and necessary steps to attain gender equality within the governments of western society.
Although both films reiterated many things I already knew about the realities of being a woman in the western world, they were still highly impactful reminders that as far as we’ve come, based on the way our culture views women and girls, there is still much work to be done to achieve any semblance of equality between the men and women in our society. Of course, that begs the question, just how is the female half of our society viewed?
Well, as Miss Representation brings to light, a woman’s value and worth in society is still most often and consistently determined by the way she looks. It’s a long standing cultural perception that keeps women – myself included – spending much of their time, energy, and financial resources on trying to conform to the completely unattainable beauty standard propagated by the media. The ramifications of which were made immediately clear by the following facts offered up in the film:
The media generates most of its revenue from advertising and generally, to drive more advertising sales, the same female body type is depicted time and again. This means women and young girls (FYI: the average teenager consumes 10 hours and 45 minutes of media per day) get the same message – you’re not beautiful enough – 24/7.
· 53% of 13 year old girls and 78% of 17 year old counterparts are unhappy with their bodies
· 65 % of women and girls have an eating disorder
· 17% of teenagers engage in cutting and self-injurious behaviour
· Rate of depression in girls and woman doubled between 2000 and 2010
· In the US alone, women spend $12,000 – $15,000 per year on beauty products and salon services, and between 1997 and 2007 the number of cosmetic surgeries on girls under 19 tripled
You can’t be what you can’t see – Marian Wright Edelman
What’s more, with the exception of images of young, thin, and sexually available females, women and girls are “symbolically annihilated” in the media, with an average of only 20% of all news stories covering women and girls. The fact is, because men still dominate the media, women and girls are chronically misrepresented, which holds all females back in insidious ways – particularly when it comes to attaining political power.
As Newsom makes abundantly clear in Miss Representation, the media’s treatment of power significantly influences how power is viewed by society, and the more power women gain, the stronger the media backlash against them. Females in leadership roles are generally: 1) trivialised by the media’s focus on how they look; 2) twice as likely to be painted emotionally as men are; and 3) cast as bitchy (i.e. Hilary Clinton) or pornified and ‘dizzified’ (i.e. Sarah Palin), while their credentials are constantly critiqued. By depicting women and girls as less competent and/or more sexualized than they truly are, the media dehumanizes, and more importantly disempowers women as they challenge the male dominated status quo.
Despite this, as director Gretchen Kelbaugh, demonstrates in her film Menocracy, it is of the utmost importance that women continue to challenge male power – especially in the political realm.
More on women, power, and the film Menocracy to come in part 2 of this post.