October 24, 2011

Media's Portrayal of Women

A new film premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that sent a chill through its audience.

Miss Representation is a new documentary exploring how the media’s portrayal of women has had a tremendous –and negative- impact on the progress of women in society.  The film reveals how mainstream media directly correlates to the under-representation of women in positions of influence and power in the United States.

As explained on the film’s website misrepresentation.org:

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. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, 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.

Here are just a few of the alarming statistics shared in the film:

·          American teenagers spend more than 10 hours a day consuming media, most of it filled with content that objectifies women and distorts their bodies.

·          53% of 12 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies, 78% of 17 year old girls feel unhappy with their bodies and 65% of women and girls have an eating disorder.

·          Rates of depression among girls and women have doubled between 2000 and 2010.

·          Girls are learning to see themselves as objects.  The American Psychological Association calls self-objectification a national epidemic: Women and girls who self-objectify are more likely to be depressed, have lower confidence, lower ambition and lower GPAs.

·          US Advertisers support this content – they spent $236 billion in 2009.  Because of deregulation – “This is the first time in human history that marketers have dictated our cultural norms and values,” according to Caroline Heldman of Occidental College.

·          Women respond to advertisers’ messages of never being good enough: American women spend more money on the pursuit of beauty than on their own education.

The results?

·          67 countries in the world have had female presidents or prime ministers.  The U.S. is not one of them.

·          Women make up only 17% of the United States Congress.

·          Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Although the film is a wake-up call, the producers are vigorous about developing tools to teach girls and young women about media literacy, and to work toward change in media and advertising industries.

I’ve registered to host a screening of Miss Representation, which will provide us an opportunity to view and share the powerful messages of this film.  I have also ordered an educational curriculum to provide Chrysalis After-School programs the opportunity to teach and reinforce the importance of changing the industry, and changing the way we view, learn, and resist its negative messages.

If you’d like to see a short trailer for Miss Representationhttp://vimeo.com/18985647

Thank you for making this critical work possible.