A friend of mine sent me the extended trailer for a documentary called Miss Representation a few months ago and I’d been desperately trying to find a way to see it since then. It explores how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of women.
Although it was shown on the Oprah Winfrey Network a few times, the only way other way to view the documentary was by attending a screening. In the meantime, I would learn all I could from my Women’s History Since 1870 course and my Women & Politics in the U.S. course.
Recently, the Center for Educational Policy and Advocacy, EveryWoman’s Center, MotherWoman, UMass Center for Health Promotion, Women of Color Leadership Network, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, and Stonewall Center, worked together to host a screening and a facilitated discussion afterward. All of the collaborators are campus resources except for MotherWoman, a local organization with similar goals. It’s events like this one that remind me how lucky I am to go to a university with something to do every day!
When I arrived to the Cape Cod Lounge in the Student Union for the screening, the room was already filled with students and a handful of professors who couldn’t wait to see it for the first or tenth time! The experience of watching this movie with others was cool because we were all laughing with each other at the jokes interviewees made… and sighing with each other when we heard that 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, even though women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades.
At one point, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who wrote, directed, and produced the film said, “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.” The film interweaves stories from teenage girls with provocative interviews from the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Lisa Ling, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Rosario Dawson, Dr. Jackson Katz, Dr. Jean Kilbourne, and Gloria Steinem to give an inside look at the media and its message. Everyone interviewed agreed that young women need and want more positive role models to break down the media’s influence.
It was a powerful film about a subject that’s really important to me. There’s something wrong when women make up 51% of the population of this country, yet only about 17% of Congress. I think exploring this topic in more depth would make for an interesting Capstone Experience thesis in a few years. Stay posted! :)
Note: As it turns out, attending a screening wasn’t the only way I could have seen the film. Many educational institutions and libraries have DVD copies for rental. Plus, the documentary was recently released on iTunes!