Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Miss-Representation



I found myself with a few free hours this week, and decided I needed to pop back into the Labia on Orange Street. There was only one screening scheduled of Miss-Representation, and I caught it!

The documentary was a critique of portrayals of women in pop culture media, like blockbuster films, reality TV, and music videos. I'd seen critiques like this before, and I recognized some contributors from films shown in my undergrad Communication classes--Jean Kilbourne and Jackson Katz stand out. (Sut Jhally was conspicuously absent--what, no more Dreamworlds?)

But Miss-Representation was more than a critique of stereotypical images; the film explored the affects such images have on society and political participation in America. It's a little shocking that the average American woman spends more than I earned in all of 2010 on beauty products and treatments every year. It was equally depressing to learn that since the 1970s, women's representation in government has stagnated or declined (!) while the number of images you can see online, on TV, or in print of women being submissive sex objects has grown exponentially every year. In one interview, Geena Davis said that she often hears that from the start of her career until now, "things have gotten better" for women--that somehow there are more women on screen and behind the scenes, creating and acting as complex characters.

This isn't the case. Women are dismally represented in fields like film directing, script-writing for TV and movies, and CEOs or shareholders of media companies. And while you can see a lot of women on TV or in movies, what those characters can say or do is limited to stereotypes. You're either a bombshell who only lives to seduce men, or you're a nightmare shrew. (WAIT someone copyright "Nightmare Shrew" as the name of my punk band. HURRY.)

But people of every gender are complex, and nothing makes me happier than connecting to a messy, realistic character. This is why I prefer books to any other media, really.

Sometime in high school I decided to opt out of this new-fangled moving picture business, because I was deeply unsatisfied with the bulk of the images and characters available. But that doesn't contribute to a solution, does it?

Ultimately, the documentary recommended that all people demand truer representations of people as people, through boycotts of truly heinous images and by voting with their wallets for more realistic characters and interactions. (Have you all heard of the Bechdel Test?)

And entering politics to make sure a democracy is truly representative and participatory isn't for everyone. (Though that gene is definitely in my family.) PJ told me once that he expects to see me in public office sometime in the next 20 years, and I immediately said, "No way, I couldn't take the spotlight. I couldn't stand for the media to attack my hair or my body when I'm trying to say something else about the world."

But that's a cop-out too, isn't it? That's accepting that women = appearance, and not challenging it. I have a lot to think about...

Though truth be told, I think my real passion is writing. I know that I am capable of creating messy and interesting characters that break stereotypical molds, and Miss-Representation was a great reminder of how important that is in media discourse.

ALSO, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite sources on this topic, so check it out:


2 comments:

  1. Your post reminded me, I recently saw Contagion & was struck by how many of the lead characters were women. Amongst them, the scientist who develops the world-saving vaccine is a woman, and Kate Winslet's field work in the film is anything but glamorous. It's not the deepest film ever, but for a mainstream blockbuster the gender choices were somewhat surprising.

    Also, I recently picked up a PhD dissertation from a grad student out of Stanford that has an intriguing discussion on "Fat as a Social Phenomenon." It particularly picks up your theme of how damaging our societal reliance on appearance is to both women & children. For some light reading (lol), you can pick the paper up at http://utoronto.academia.edu/EliseParadis/Papers/364222/CHANGING_MEANINGS_OF_FAT_FAT_OBESITY_EPIDEMICS_AND_AMERICAS_CHILDREN.

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  2. I absolutely WILL read that paper for fun!

    And I do know that there are some fabulous exceptions to the standard media protrayal of women. When I finally watched Battlestar Galactica, after it had already ended, I could not believe I'd missed such good storylines and great character chemistry. I love find good counter-examples, and try to support them while they're still on the air!

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