Monday, October 31, 2011

Miss Representation

Fair warning: I'm about to rant. I hope you'll bear with me; I promise to return to lighter fare soon. 
First, watch this:
Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Over the weekend, I watched Miss Representation, a documentary written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and aired on OWN (yes, that would be the Oprah Winfrey Network).  It is a powerful film, and I highly recommend setting your DVRs to record it when it airs again on November 12th at 11am. Miss Representation examines the way that women are portrayed in media today and the ways in which these media messages play out in and impact politics and our lives. To say that I was shocked by the statistics and media clips presented in the documentary would be an understatement. I found myself pausing the movie every few minutes to write down an appalling statistic or an insightful observation by one of the people Newsom interviewed. And now (lucky you), I want to talk about it. My apologies, but the nature of blogs means I get to do all the talking, at least at first. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

To understand why media is so important and why we should even stop to consider the messages it presents, it's important to realize just how omnipresent it is, which leads me to shocking statistic number one. Each week the average American teen watches television for 31 hours, listens to music for 17 hours, is online for ten hours, reads magazines for four hours, and watches movies for three hours. That adds up to ten hours and 45 minutes each day; that's more time than they spend in school or interacting with their parents. So if people are spending that much time absorbing media during a period when they are also forming possibly life-long impressions of who they are and how the world works, I'd say that those media messages are pretty damn impactful.

The film began by addressing advertising and its impact on the self-esteem and body image of girls and women.
  • As a result of deregulation, advertising is everywhere. U.S. advertisers spent 235.6 billion dollars in 2009. That is more than the GDP of 80% of the countries in the world. 
  • Thanks to photo retouching software, that advertising is often misleading if not outright deceptive.
{Dove Evolution Campaign}

{The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority pulled these ads because they do not accurately represent the product's capabilities.}
  • “This is the first time in human history that marketers have dictated our cultural norms and values.” - Caroline Heldman, associate professor, Occidental College
  • 53% of 12 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies, 78% of 17 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies and 65% of women and girls have an eating disorder.
  • The average American woman now spends more money pursuing the unattainable ideal presented by advertising than she does on her education.
  • Americans spent $10,677,415,674 on cosmetic procedures in 2010.
The film continues with a discussion of women in entertainment, both on screen and behind the scenes.
  • In feature films, only 16% of protagonists are female, and when the protagonist is a woman, she is usually concerned with getting or keeping her man. Only 7% of film directors and 10% of women.
  • Between 1937 and 2005, there were only 13 female protagonists in animated films, and all of them, save one, aspired to find romance.
  • In G-rated movies, the female characters are just as likely to be wearing sexually revealing clothing as in R-rated movies.

  • More than 70% of women on TV are in their 20s and 30s.
  • Women on "reality" TV are, almost always shown to be catty, shallow, gold-digging, and/or promiscuous.
  • Study after study shows that exposure to television and film violence leads to an increase in aggressive behavior in real life. This is relevant here because television violence against women is on the rise, and one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence.
The parts of the film that I found the most surprising and the most disturbing were the segments that pointed out how the objectification and sexualization of women in advertising and entertainment has seeped into the news media.  The film showed clip after clip of newscasters and pundits talking about and evaluating the appearance of various female political figures. There was reference to Hilary Clinton as her "thighness," Sarah Palin was asked if she has breast implants and routinely called "cute" or "hot" by people who were supposed to be reporting the news and helping us evaluate her as a potential vice president. One talking head criticized Elena Kagan's appointment to the Supreme Court, not because of her record, but because of her looks saying, "Kagan he's gonna put on the Supreme Court? Isn't there such a thing about the aesthetics of the appointee? Let's put it to you this way, she's not the type of face you'd want to see on a five dollar bill." There were also a few disgusting quotes by Pat Robertson, but I think everyone pretty much agrees that he's an imbecile, so I'll leave them out.
  • Only 20% of news stories are about women
  • Female politicians are twice as likely to be described in emotional terms. They are said to have "complained" whereas their male counterparts "stated."
  • In John Boehner's first four weeks as Speaker of the House, he was on the cover of five national magazines. In Nancy Pelosi's four years as Speaker, she appeared on exactly zero national magazine covers.
Let's not forget who is reporting all of this news. More often than not, the female anchors are beautiful young women with sex kitten hair and outfits that would not be considered appropriate business attire in most offices while their male co-hosts are older, decidedly average looking men in suits. [There are exceptions of course - Brian Williams is Clooney-esque and Diane Sawyer doesn't flash her cleavage or her booty on air.]

Finally, there's the ugly reality that while great advances have been made over the last hundred years (women now outnumber men in college), women have yet to attain true equality.
  • America’s women continue to earn just 77 cents for every dollar men earn.
  • Women account for 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.
  • Women make up 51% of the population and only 17% of Congress.
  • "No wonder we are in such trouble in this country. We've been choosing our national leadership from 6% of the country. " - Gloria Steinem referring to the fact that the majority of American politicians are married white men over 35 with a college education and a professional degree.
If there were more women lawmakers, perhaps Sen. Patty Murray would have succeeded in passing a measure that would have prevented insurance companies from denying health insurance to women who have been victims of domestic violence. Unbelievably, she couldn't garner enough votes in 2006, so the measure failed and that practice continues in eight states and the District of Columbia.
  • Cuba, China, Afghanistan, and Iraq have more women in government than the United States.
  • “Little boys and little girls, when they’re seven years old, an equal number want to be President of the United States when they grow up, about thirty percent. But then you ask the same question when they’re fifteen and you see this massive gap emerging. We have this gendered socialization where politics is considered to be for men, leadership is considered to be a masculine pursuit and women are discouraged from pursuing ambitious positions.” - Caroline Heldman
Each of these facts and observations when taken individually may seem nitpicky, even whiny, but taken together, it's a serious problem. The fact is that the dominant message out there is that women's power and value come from their looks and their sex appeal. This message is a destructive one, and it has, frankly, made me hopping mad.

Once you stop to think about it, you see examples of this everywhere. Since it's Halloween, take costume shopping as an example. Go to the costume aisle at Target or a party store and look at the options for girls versus boys. Everyone knows that the options for adult women are basically Sexy Fill-in-the-Blank, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Cop, Sexy Pirate/Wench/Ghost/Whatever. Sadly, the little girl options are a slightly tamer version of the same thing. It's not like the guys have a wide array of choice either; their options are limited in a differnt way. Most of their costumes come with a weapon. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with us?

I am certainly guilty of watching the kind of trash TV that portrays women in a negative light, and I definitely fall prey to advertising that makes me feel all want-y and insecure. I'm not sure what the answer is but I am more conscious of the problem now, and that is a start. In any event, I apologize for the ranting, and I will be back to more light-hearted posts tomorrow sometime this week. For now, I'm off to observe the shenanigans that are West Hollywood's annual Halloween Costume Carnaval. I have a feeling that, in my hood, it will be the men who are objectified tonight, and can I just say? Daaayum. Those boys like to work on their bodies. I'll report back with photographic evidence of the craziness. If this year is anything like years previous, I'm in for quite a spectacle.

{source: Thee DOMASAN}
{source: ilmungo}

{source: PinkMafiaRadio}

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