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Miss Representation: Media's influence on women's lives

Exploring the relationship between media representation and female personhood.

I went to see the film Miss Representation last night. Jennifer Siebel Newsome’s documentary about the repercussions about media representations of women was powerful, inspiring and full of more facts than anyone could dispute. The movie was lacking a definitive narrative storyline and was a bit too broad to be digestible, but still is a much-see movie for anyone, male or female.

The movie began with a discussion of how much time teenagers spend engaging with television shows, movies or the Internet. As we all know, programming is controlled almost entirely by men—writers, producers, stars, etc…--so essentially, most of the entertainment that we see is a representation of men’s lives. Perhaps because of this, women are almost never fully fleshed-out characters, and instead are sexualized things that orbit around the male-centric universe.

The movie then makes a rather strange move to speak towards the dearth of women in political office. In the United States, women comprise only 17% of Congress, even though they make up 51% of the country. Many prominent politicians like Condoleeza Rice and Nancy Pelosi were commentators in the film, speaking towards the disparity between the way female and male politicians are represented in the media. Many of the names used by commentators, like “bitch” and “harpy,” brought us back to Hilary Clinton’s run for the Democratic presidential ticket in 2008. 

While the purpose of the movie seemed to make the connection between portrayals of women in media and the disparity of women in politics, the connection was a little shaky for me. The inspiration seemed to be broader—to inspire women to be more sure of themselves and reach for their dreams—but the consequence seemed to be that women needed to make grounds in political office.

Instead of this rather pat correlation, the film would have been better served if it had called for a greater number of women leaders, rather than only female politicians. A number of women leaders who were not politicians, including Katie Couric and a number of female CEO’s, were cited in the movie, but did not mention the importance of this kind of leadership. Certainly, female leaders in other arenas, like businesss, education, and media production, are as important to creating change in the United States as are politicians.

Still, the movie was a reminder of where women are at in the United States, and where we still need to go. Have you seen Miss Representation?