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.


  1. What movie did you see?

  2. Oh yeah, that movie is worth it. I have it saved and protected on my DVR, never to be erased. I'm sorry you went through so much, but glad it was worth it for you. And if you ever move back to UT, you can come watch it at my house and I won't make you pay for parking :-)

  3. Anonymous, hopefully the update clears it up a little. :)

    Risa... !! I will take you up on that the next time I'm even visiting Utah! It's only the next day and I'm wishing I could watch it again.

  4. I forgot to mention one of my favorite parts of the movie, and I've already updated the post enough. Toward the end, when the interviewees were talking about things we can actually do about it, someone brought up the point that we need to go see movies written and directed by women. Hollywood follows the numbers, and the numbers they track are opening-weekend sales (especially Friday night). If we want movies about and by women, then we need to show it. I'll leave you with this little gem to chew on:

    “We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. We are here to make money.”
    —Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, in an internal memo

    (This is another really good article that shares some great points from the movie.)

  5. This sounds fantastic. I'm not sure I can make it to a Park City screening on a Thursday night, but I will certainly find somewhere to watch it. (Also, that picture of Megan Fox in Transformers made me cringe. She is SO a prop character!)

  6. This gets me all fired up! Thanks for posting all that information and including all the links. I hope to see it in April. It really is appalling at how equal everyone says we are or are becoming and yet it seems less and less like that's the reality of it. Seems to be getting worse in my opinion...the more skin/sexuality we show the less equality we really have. And the last few years I just see those numbers of provocitive PR sky's actually quite frightening. Another sad part is that we send this same message to the boys, we are hurting both parts of the equation...teaching boys how to treat us and showing girls what's an acceptable way to be treated...exasperating the problem. It was nice to see men interviewed in there that can see past all the BS. But seriously, media stinks!
    But it's so true about making the calls. I wrote a letter a while back to Bath and Body Works about the 'porn' they were sending to my husband for advertising...they didn't seem to really care about my letter and their response was pitiful at most...but in their next round of advertising, all the women were clothed! We do have voices...I love that you use yours Miri!

  7. P.S. I didn't have a chance to watch the Fox News Babes video until this morning, but OH MY GOSH! One of those women had a skirt so short that I could see butt cheek! SERIOUSLY? I've always laughed at Jon Stewart's jokes about the pretty blonde newscaster cabbage patch they have over there, but I don't think any of those women had skirts that came past their mid thigh. Is that really necessary for a compelling news story, friends? (And again, my love of Rachel Maddow grows.)

  8. Janeen, I remember that! You wrote about it on your blog, I'm pretty sure, because I think I commented and also wrote them my own letter. I didn't know they responded, though. That is fantastic. :) It really is amazing discovering that you can actually SAY THINGS. I think a lot of us grow up thinking that things are just the way they are and we have to fit into the world as it is. It's kind of a revelation to learn that these "things" aren't permanent, they weren't always that way, and they don't have to stay either. They were put in place by people, and they can be changed by people too! I feel like I may have just mentioned this to you a few days ago (in a comment thread on another post, maybe?) but if you've never read Female Chauvinist Pigs, by Ariel Levy, you really should. I think you'd like it. :)

    Also, I don't know if I mentioned it in the post, but Miss Representation focuses on how this affects boys, too. There are interviews with some high school boys, and one of the men who shows up the most is Jackson Katz, an activist who talks about how sexism affects ideas of masculinity. I just did a quick search for him so you can see the kind of work he does; it goes hand in hand with what Miss Representation is doing (because, as they both point out, none of this is exclusive to one gender. Sexism hurts everyone).

    Megan: Oh, I know. That woman (the one wearing a flowy belt in lieu of a skirt) is Laurie Dhue, and I honestly could not believe that was an actual photo when I first saw it. I wasn't looking for a video of specifically Fox News anchors, but it happens that Fox is particularly well-known for their brigade of hot blondes, and that's what came up in the search. Impressive, right?

    1. I do want to read that book. You did mention it and I was glad you did. It's now on my list. It sounds like I would like it.

      Bath and Body Work's actual reply to me was ridiculous. They basically just said that they understand everyone has a different point of view. I did post their response on the blog too. I actually expected nothing to change but I paid attention and was pleased that hopefully more than me (and you) wrote them and they changed their minds about their PR campaign!

      I agree with you, most of us do think we are powerless to change the things around us. Yet, the truth is our voice is the only that does have enough power to change it. If we don't speak they never really know their audience and assume all is well in the world they are're right though, it can all be changed.

    2. Oh, the pop up is at 1:55...just so you know.

  9. I do have to note about the skirts...there is disclaimer at the end of the video for about 1 second that pops up and says that video has been edited and photo shopped to show more leg than they truly reveal. Although, I am sure they were still short enough to begin with it didn't take much editing...

    1. I just watched it again and I want to clarify fully: the still photos in that video are photoshopped (and in many of them you can see where the skirt actually ended, and where they chopped it off to show more leg). There are a couple video clips in the video, though, and those are not edited, so you can see where the real skirts were.

  10. GREAT post, I really enjoyed it. I love this film and I'm glad to see the LoveSocial collaboration with Miss Representation.

  11. Thanks, Dionysus! I really think Miss Representation is one of the most important movies I've ever seen. I just can't stress it strongly enough. :)

    Oh, and thanks for pointing that out, Janeen! I guess I never responded to your comment, but I totally thought I had. Silly me for not noticing that (I didn't actually watch the video all the way to the end). :)

  12. If you've come to this link more recently, you should know that the DVD is now available for purchase! I bought mine a few months ago already, and if you live near me and want to get together to watch, just let me know. You can also buy or rent it from iTunes, and I think they're still doing public screenings—all the information is on the website I linked.