Women in media: You can’t be what you can’t see



By Maddie Flom, Holy Family Catholic High School, Victoria, Minn.

The media contributes highly to the major problem of the under-representation of women in positions of power and leadership roles. The documentary, Miss Representation, gives the audience a shocking view of women in the media. The film, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, shows interviews of many powerful leaders, both male and female, in America. These interviews include Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Cory Booker and Gloria Steinem.

The film’s message, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” conveys that young girls are discouraged from becoming leaders in society because they do not see strong women in the media. The film also brings up how media dehumanizes women and makes them seen as objects in society, and even to themselves.

Newsom said she could not imagine how her daughter will be able to grow up emotionally healthy given our modern culture. She says, “being strong, smart, and accomplished [i]s not enough…to be a woman mean[s] constantly striving for an attainable ideal of beauty and approval in the eye’s of men.”

Jean Kilbourne brought up an interesting point that many do not think about. “Girls get the message from very early on that what’s most important is how they look. That their value, their worth, depends on that. And boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls.” The media is not only hurting girls’ understanding of themselves, but also boys’ understanding of girls. The media is teaching boys that looks are the only thing to judge a woman by. This leaves women feeling disempowered and that their voice does not matter, which stops women from becoming leaders.

Another major point of the film was how movies and TV shows sexualize and objectify women. In fact, female characters in G-rated movies are just as likely to be wearing sexually revealing clothing as in R-rated movies. Women are being seen as sex objects or body props for young male viewers because of the ways women are portrayed in movies and TV shows.

Additionally, the media objectifies women, which makes them feel disempowered and causes fewer women in leadership positions. The media also encourages women’s self-objectification, which leads women to feeling that their voice does not matter in society. This causes women to not make a difference, run for office, or vote because we think it is normal or okay.

Too often, we girls and women don’t recognize our own internal strength. I now know that we can’t let anyone or anything take our power away from us.”

— Jennifer Siebel Newsom, filmmaker

Women hold only 5 percent of positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising, which means that 95 percent of what we see in the media comes from the male perspective. Media’s misrepresentation of women not only affects our cultural norms, but also how the United States is compared to the rest of the world.

The United States ranks 90th in terms of women in national legislatures. Cuba, China, Iraq, and Afghanistan have more women in government than the United States does. Additionally, 71 countries have had female presidents or prime ministers, but the United States is not one of them.

The film’s ending point encourages young girls to go out and become leaders, even if there is no one who looks like you in that position. Women need to stand up for each other because who else is going to? Finally, Newsom ended saying, “Too often, we girls and women don’t recognize our own internal strength. I now know that we can’t let anyone or anything take our power away from us.”

You can take a stand for women. An easy way to start is to support The Representation Project by taking the pledge, donating, or becoming involved with the Twitter campaign using #mediawelike and #notbuyingit.

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