This past week, I watched a 2011 documentary called Miss Representation, a play on the word “misrepresentation.” The documentary examines the overwhelming amount of objectified images of women in the U.S. media, the use of things like photoshop to create impossible ideals of women’s bodies, the emphasis on women’s appearance, and the lack of realistic women in the media. Even as someone who has been acutely aware of these issues, this movie really brings home just how bad this problem has gotten (for example, according to Miss Representation, out of all the U.S. fiction, only 16% have female protagonists).
Most significantly, this documentary focuses on the impact this emphasis on female appearance and objectification has on women politically. It claims that American girls are socialized (in large part through the media) to be ultra concerned with their appearance and that those girls who are the most concerned with their appearance feel less politically powerful. Studies have been done that show that in elementary school, an equal amount of girls and boys want to be president, but when these kids are re-interviewed in high school, the number of girls who feel they can be president has dropped significantly. Miss Representation also shows how female politicians are treated differently by the media than male politicians, making comments about how terrible Hillary Clinton looks or asking if Sarah Palin got breast implants. When was the last time you heard a news report on those gray streaks in Romney’s hair or speculation on whether Bill Clinton should get botox? This is just a piece of what the documentary discusses, but it paints a picture of how the media affects how people see women and as a result, how women are limited to certain representations.
I know a lot of people wonder when I or anyone else talks about poor representations of girls/women in the media (from commercials to movies to books to manga) how a piece of fiction can really matter. Miss Representation explains how better than I ever could by presenting a larger picture. These representations of women are everywhere and both girl and boys are exposed to them from childhood. Even boys’ and girls’ toys are segregated to socialize them to a certain role; boys get traditionally manly things like building blocks, cars, tools, etc. while one look at the girls’ toy aisle reveals a sea of pastel pinks and purples, makeup, fashion, and Barbie and Bratz dolls. We become used to seeing objectified and sexist images of women so, if one doesn’t stop to examine things more closely, it’s easy to miss them. So, when I talk about a book or movie that I feel poorly represents women, it’s likely not just that one piece of fiction, but one example of a bigger trend I see in many movies, books, manga, and so on.
If you have any interest in the U.S. media misrepresentations of women, even if you are a skeptic, you should definitely try to see Miss Representation. It goes over multiple issues related to this problem and really gives a good example of the larger impact a seemingly small thing can have on a society.