Thursday, March 1, 2012

Miss Representation: or How I Took a Six-Hour Trip to Watch an Hour and a Half-Long Movie

Things that went right tonight, in chronological order:
  • I showered, shaved, got dressed, loved how my hair turned out and felt pretty.
  • I left at 4:30, on schedule to be there half an hour early, my route all planned.
  • I was really, really careful eating my tacos in the car and managed not, for once, to get any food on my clothes.
  • I didn't have any trouble finding the library even though I'd never been to the campus before and had parked in a different place than I'd planned.  
  • They had technical difficulties starting the movie, so even though I got there twenty minutes late, I didn't miss anything. 
  • The movie was amazing. Amazing amazing.
  • I got to see (/meet new) friends and chat for a few minutes after the movie. 
  • I didn't get ticketed for parking in a student lot. 
  • I didn't run out of gas before I got to a gas station. 
Things that went wrong tonight, in chronological order:
  • While in the shower I discovered that my razor is missing. No one knows where it went; I soaked the bathroom looking for it, and ended up shaving with an old-ish one (the only one I could find that didn't have a rusty blade). 
  • My route had been planned to avoid paying $8 in tolls, but in a Brain Fart of the Century, neglected to consider that I would be driving on 75 through downtown Dallas at approximately 5:00. It took me 45 minutes to drive ten miles.
  • When I finally got to Arlington, there was an accident directly in front of the precise exit I had to take, so that added another five minutes. 
  • Somewhere between that exit and my destination, I realized that I had no idea how long the gas light had been on. 
  • When I got to the UTA campus I realized that I had forgotten to get cash or change for parking. So I parked in a student lot and prayed I wouldn't get a ticket.
  • Ran from parking lot to library, so I'm sure my face looked like a tomato when I got there.
  • On my way home, drove for about two minutes before I hit traffic at a standstill. I-30 was closed; it took me 20 minutes to drive five miles. 
  • I pulled into the Chipotle parking lot and realized it was 9:58. Ended up getting Wendy's, where they forgot to give me the barbecue sauce and frosty I ordered for Mike.
  • Got home at 10:30.
It should tell you how fantastic that movie is that I still consider the whole thing having been worth it.

Update 10:15 am, 3/2/12: Now that it's not two hours past my bedtime when I have to get up for work at 5:30 in the morning, I can tell you about the actual movie.


Miss Representation premiered at Sundance 2011. It was written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom—an actress and advocate for women—and it's about how our media contribute to the under-representation, sexualization, and dehumanization of women. It shows interviews with teenage girls, some of which were absolutely heartbreaking (like the one with the girl who starts crying when she talks about her younger sister cutting herself because her peers criticize her body). It shows interviews with powerful and famous women like Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem, Rosario Dawson, Geena Davis, Jane Fonda, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Nancy Pelosi, and Margaret Cho, and the heads of several women's organizations. And it provides information that many of us would never have known about. Like this, which you may have seen floating around the interwebs (I know I posted it on Facebook a couple months ago):

(Gavin Newsom is Jennifer Siebel Newsom's husband and the California Lieutenant Governor.)

From an article on the Ms. Magazine blog: "Miss Representation is replete with statisticssome we’ve heard before, others new and staggering. Of course you know that women make up 51 percent of the world’s population but only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and a mere 17 percent of the U.S. Congress. But did you realize that only 16 percent of films feature women protagonists?" Not to mention that women make up only 7% of directors and 13% of film writers. And of course, like a high school student points out in the movie, when a woman is the protagonist of a movie, the plot is almost always about her quest to find love. So, even when it's technically about a woman's life, the plot revolves around a man.

On my way home from the movie it occurred to me to wish I had taken notes; I usually do during something like that, and it would have been great to be able to remember more specifically the things that stuck out to me. It was too dark, though, and attempting to take notes would have distracted me from just being able to watch, so it's better that I didn't try. There are graphics like the one above for several of the points I remember sticking out to me, though, so I grabbed them from the Miss Representation Facebook page (where you should go immediately after finishing this blog post—their non-profit organization bears the same name). 


"We have enormous power. Eighty-six percent of the purchasing power of this country is in the pockets of women. Well, let's use it." —Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of The Paley Center for Media and former president and CEO of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).


Dianne Feinstein is the senior United States Senator from California, and the movie showed an article in which this exact thing was done to her. (Also, I like that use of "X" and "Y".)


And that advertising is essentially what defines our entire media culture. Between television, movies, the internet, and music, the average person is spending something like 10 hours a day being exposed to media influence. 


It's impossible to have a healthy society with this kind of skewed representation.

Here's the thing about the movie, though—you really have to see it. I'm giving you some of the great information here, but one of the most striking things about the film is how clearly it shows the demeaning, dehumanizing way women are portrayed in the media. When you watch it you'll see a lot of shots you've seen before in commercials, on reality TV, in movies and music videos and concerts and celebrity gossip magazines. You'll begin to see just how often women are used as "body props"—characters who don't further the story on their own, who literally have no other purpose than to indulge the male viewers' (and characters') desire to look at them. 

You'll begin to see how violently women in power are disrespected and insulted by the people who give us our news. Jennifer Siebel Newsom did an interview on All Things Considered, in which you can hear some clips from the movie: things like Bill O'Reilly telling Michele Bachmann that she and Sarah Palin are both attractive and young (then correcting himself to say "relatively young" instead), Michael Savage suggesting Elena Kagan shouldn't be on the Supreme Court because he wouldn't want to see her face on a five-dollar bill, Lee Rodgers talking about the "ugly skanks who make up the female leadership of the Democratic Party", and some unidentified creep saying, "You know that ugly hag Madeleine Albright? Remember her?" 

You can also hear the clip they show in the movie of Jay Leno's sketch in which the audience has to decide if the pictured woman is a newscaster or a Hooters waitress—which is, frankly, a near-legitimate question. Since I couldn't find video for the Jay Leno clip and have already spent too long on this post to look any harder for it, check out this ridiculous video and then look at the results I got when I searched for "female newscasters".



To sum up: Miss Representation is doing a really amazing and very necessary thing. I cringe outwardly and scream inwardly every time I hear someone say that feminism "did its job" and now we don't need it anymore. Oh, honey... I don't know what to tell you if you think that's true. (Wait, yes I dogo watch this movie. Immediately.) In the vast majority of our media women are either sexual objects, horrifying shrews, or not represented at all. And this media dominates our culture. 

Girls need to know that it's possible for them to be successful. One of the mantras of Miss Representation is "You can't be what you can't see" (—Marian Wright Edelman). Women need to become more visible. We need to be represented as what we are: human beings, with brains and personalities and senses of humor and strength and talent, who make up more than half of the population of the world.

So let me say it again: If you haven't seen this movie, find a screening now. If there isn't one near you, consider organizing one yourself. It isn't available for individual sale yet, but you can sign up here to be notified when it is. Everyone needs to see this. Especially young girls, especially men, especially women—I really do mean everyone. Things can change, but first we have to know what to do.