Gender and Women’s Studies hosted a screening of the documentary “Miss Representation” on Monday in the Connelly Cinema. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, according to the documentary’s website.

Newsom was inspired to write this film after becoming pregnant with a daughter and worrying about her future in a society that can often be very harsh on women and young girls. She felt the need to play some part in fixing her daughter’s future societal surroundings, even if the damage for her generation had already been done.

In an interview with documentary.org, Newsom said, “I was horrified by the thought of raising a daughter in a culture that demeans, degrades and disrespects women on a regular basis.  ‘Miss Representation’ is my attempt to right this wrong and put our culture on a path that recognizes and empowers women and girls.”

Newsom narrated the documentary and discussed her trouble growing up in our media obsessed culture. She lost her sister at a young age, and felt responsible for her death. Thus, she took on the role of both daughters, throwing herself into her sports and academics in order to show she was valued and capable. Newsom suffered from an eating disorder that would ruin two years of her life as an adolescent.

This documentary is a testament to her experiences, and though they are unique, they are relatable for young women all over the world.

It is no secret that women are not necessarily equal in power to men when it comes to opportunities for employment and other aspects of daily life. Women are often only considered important in regards to their appearance, sexuality and youth, instead of valued for their talents as leaders and thinkers.

The media are responsible for corrupt messages that are being presented to women in images, advertisements, television shows and movies, the documentary showed. American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours a week listening to music, three hours a week watching movies, four hours a week reading magazines and 10 hours a week online.

That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption per day. Anyone who believes she is immune to the impact of the media is unaware of the powerful effect it has on people that is often invisible to the eye.

The documentary focuses on the media’s skewed portrayal of women, which creates unattainable ideas of perfection for girls starting at a very young age. For this reason, 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78 percent by age 17, this documentary said.

Movies begin to portray these images to audiences from an exceptionally early age. Geena Davis, who played the first female president on TV, said, “Consider this. In G-rated movies, the female characters wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as the characters in R-rated movies.”

It is not difficult to imagine why young girls struggle with their self-esteem early on in life. Television shows and films cast attractive, thin-looking girls who seem to be overly confident in themselves and their appearance. This teaches viewers that they may be able to achieve this same level of confidence if they emulate this image. Often girls who are not secure in themselves and their bodies go to great lengths to attain this same level of confidence.

The film cited some horrifying statistics that bring this notion to life, and prove the drastic negative effects that media consumption has on young women. Sixty-five percent of American women and girls haveeating disorders Seventeen percent of teens engage in cutting and self-injurious behavior. Studies estimate that 13 percent to 25 percent of youth have some history of self-injury, such as cutting, and most studies show that cutting is more common with girls.
The issues that the media cultivate within young women are carried to adulthood, forcing them to believe that they are unworthy of certain positions because they have no women to look up to in positions of leadership. It is rare to see a woman in a political office or important journalism position who is being revered for her intellectual abilities rather than her appearance.  Television stations like E! News and Access Hollywood pride themselves on reviewing who wore what best and whose body looks better, instead of focusing on the impact that female leaders in the entertainment industry can have on the rest of women.

Women make up 51 percent of the United States population, but only 17 percent hold positions in Congress, while a mere three percent hold powerful positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising. What does this say about the opportunities available to women, and why have we been unable to transcend sexism in the twenty first century?

Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton were used as examples to showcase the media’s negative portrayal of successful women. When reporters discussed Sarah Palin, they consistently talked about her clothing choices and how attractive she was, whereas Hilary Clinton was shamed for being ugly and riding the coattails of her former president husband.

Even female newscasters, whom young women should be able to look up to, fall prey to the objectification of the female body.  They wear low cut, cleavage-bearing blouses and revealing skirts to appease their male bosses and the male audiences, without regard for how this affects the aspiring young female journalist who may be insecure about her body.

Women must be willing to say no to being used as objects. If women’s self-confidence can come from the inside, they must project this onto others and refuse to be praised for their merely physical attributes.

If beauty truly does lie in the eye of the beholder, than we must teach people to accept women for their intellectual abilities, their unique voices and their worth as integral players in society.  Accepting them for anything less than this does an injustice to our society, and misrepresents how far we truly have come in creating equality for all.


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