In a media intensive society, perceptions undoubtedly shape reality. The documentary “Miss Representation,” written, produced, and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, argues society is being fed a narrow, innaccurate view of women via all media channels (i.e. television, internet, commercials, TV shows). Girls are taught from an early age that their role in society is based upon hypersexuality, emotional instability, and low intellect. As a result, women have been disempowered when it comes to topics such as politics and government, for example.
On February 16, 2012, dozens of women filled The Mug Coffeehouse at Alverno College to screen the documentary “Miss Representation.” The screening was jointly hosted by Alverno’s Research Center for Women and Girls and Counseling and Health Services in support of “Love Your Body Week” festivities for the women’s college. After the film was over, there were breakout sessions where participants chose to discuss on of the following:
- Body Image,
- Mentoring Girls,
- Women in Leadership, or
- Representations of Women in Media
in the context of what was presented in “Miss Representation.” Then, everyone came back together as a group to highlight the key points from their breakout sessions. During the course of the evening, students were also able to view feminist artwork on display that was made by students and faculty and obtain educational literature about women’s issues.
Photos from the invent have been included as well as a talk that Jennifer Siebel Newsom gave at MIT about her documentary “Miss Representation.”
The documentary “Miss Representation” is narrated by Newsom and includes commentary from prominent female and male figures, young women and men. Throughout the documentary, viewers are presented with statistics and video clips from TV shows, movies, etc. that support the argument that women are misrepresented in the media. Newsom is very candid about her own life and weaves it wisely into the story such as wondering what her first daughter Montana would face as a women in today’s society, the impact on her self esteem after her sister died in an accident when Newsom was 7 years old, developing an eating disorder, being raped by one of her athletic coaches, and being told to dumb down her resume when she decided to pursue acting.
The misrepresentation of women in media is given further context through citing statistics. Some of the most compelling ones are listed below:
- 15% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies
- 78% of 17 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies
- 65% of women have an eating disorder
- 16% of protagonists in films are females
- Women earn $0.77 for every $1.00 a man earns
- Women make up 51% of the US population but only 17% of Congress
By the end of the documentary, viewers received perspectives from notable pioneering women such as Gloria Steinhem, Margaret Cho, Jennifer Pozner, Katie Couric, Dr. Condoleeza Rice. It is a story that will leaves viewers feeling more aware and perhaps angry about the state of women in the media. Newsom’s greatest strength is the amount of detail presented in “Miss Representation” including a historical perspective during the latter half of the film. It’s a documentary that would be most beneficial for women who have aspirations or are working in/around the entertainment industry. While the documentary makes a great case for the need to change how women are portrayed in the media, not as much time is spent on readily actionable solutions.
Thankfully, as a follow on to “Miss Representation” there is a website (MissRepresentation.org) with resources on how women can continue to get involved by taking a pledge “to challenge the media’s portrayal of women and girls,” resources for taking action, and more. If organizing a screening like Alverno College did in Milwaukee, it would be best to include some type of follow up discussion on how this translates to the attendees’ immediate community.
For information on how to find or host a screening go to the Film section of MissRepresentation.org.