Netflix is a beautiful thing, and it’s a thing that I unfortunately do not have. If I did, I would have watched more than my fair share of cartoons from the 90s, old movies and, unsurprisingly, documentary films. I could spend hours and hours just watching TV, but that wouldn’t be very productive, inspiring, or worth my time, right? Wrong.
What started as a girl’s night in at a friend’s apartment over winter break turned into an inspirational, eye opening experience, and it was all because of a documentary film we found on Netflix. Miss Representation, written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, connects the lack of women in positions of influence and power in the United States to the misrepresentation of women in mainstream media.
The website gives the following synopsis:
The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself. In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors. Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken and armed with a new perspective.
While there were a few facts and statistics that I was familiar with, there were many more that I was not. I already knew that women are so often misrepresented in movies, on TV, and in advertisements, but this documentary made me think about it more than I had ever before. It gave me the numbers to prove that this is a problem. Statistics were given on a variety of topics, including the number of women represented in government positions, the increase in eating disorders and cosmetic surgery among women in recent years, and the amount of time American teenagers spend watching TV. They are all interesting, but I will share with you the ones that have the most obvious connection with media:
- In 2011, only 11% of protagonists in films were female.
- Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated films. All of them except one had the aspiration of finding romance.
- Women hold only 5% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising.
I’ve never really liked labels, and I am always hesitant to align myself with groups. I have never used the word feminist when describing myself, but if by writing this post and by supporting this cause I have become one, so be it. I hate when people blame their problems and shortcomings on an entire demographic, and while some might think this project does that, I do not. It simply highlights a problem that we, men and women, must work together to solve. The people behind the Representation Project are taking the conversation a step further by announcing that they are creating a second documentary film entitled The Mask You Live In, which asks how our society is also failing boys. Like Miss Representation, the 2014 film will question the way men are represented in the media and highlight the affects that these representations have on boys of all ages.
The creators behind Miss Representation have done more than just create a documentary film. They have started a project, inviting people to take a pledge and take action. I decided to take that pledge, and as a journalist, maybe I can help create change by writing about it.