Informal Feminism

{November 6, 2011}   Miss Representation and Female Media Stereotypes

This week I attended, along with a few girls from my women’s group, a documentary that was being hosted by Girls Inc of Durham. Girls Inc is a fantastic female oriented community group that focuses on ways to empower young women. Their motto is “inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold”. They held an event at the Regent Theatre, which is downtown Oshawa, where they screened Miss Representation. This is a film that explores the way that women are portrayed in popular media and how those images are harmful to real women.
In the film it overviewed several different issues about representation of women in media. One issue was the way that women in politics are dissected. Women in politics are often first discussed in terms of their appearance. They are questioned about plastic surgery and critizied for looking too old or too young. They are critiqued in a way that male politicians do not have to face. As a result, they are also taken less seriously by their almost entirely male collegues. In terms of television there are very few shows that feature a strong female politician and the ones that do tend to get cancelled quickly. The way that female politicians get dissected in the media helps to negatively affected women because it shows women of power being critiqued because of appearance instead of platform. By undermining strong women who are out campaigning it creates a hostile environment for those other young women who are thinking about following this path because they see women trying to affect change being belittled. This is only one way that media helps to create a harmful image of women.
The film also discusses how demeaning the image of women in film, television and advertising can be. All of these areas represent a certain image of women. The ideal woman is tall, but not taller then the males, beautiful, thin, big breasts, and between the ages of 16-30. What is not mentioned is the way that these women are being fixed before they can go on television. They are slathered with make-up and then digitally fixed if not 100% perfect. In paper advertisements it is even worse they are easily photo shopped to look a certain way. They can elongate the neck, thin the cheeks, and remove any unsightly blemishes so that you no longer look even remotely like yourself. Female journalists are bouncing out of their small shirts instead of being taken seriously. These are women who are supposed to be in a position of authority but they are turned into objects because of their appearance. Women who choose not to follow this certain image of beauty are publicly criticized and dissected. Rachael Maddow a well known political pundit was constantly bombarded because of her sexuality, lesbian, and her appearance which doesn’t buy into stereotypes of women instead of being discussed in terms of merit. But it is not only the way that women are presented that is the issue but also they way that they are perceived to act.
Women in film and television are often portrayed as having to fight the other women for the leading male character. One of the best cases of this is reality television, in almost every reality television show there has been a large fight between two of the female characters. This way of viewing women leads them to be distrustful of one another and works to keep women from being comfortable sharing with each other. Which translates into real life, most if not all of the women I know have told me that they have felt that rivalry at some point or another. Women also often take a backseat to the male characters actions, in most action films the females are seen as the prize to collect. In the few films where women are seen as having an active role they are doing it in a way that is attractive to the male gaze. It always caught me when I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer how she could fight in those short skirts and heels. Xena: Warrior Princess is another classic example of the female lead being strong but the clothing choice impractical. When Women are central characters in other films or television show they are usually romantic and once again based around the plot line of a female seeking a male. There are very few films that have women with agency driving a plotline that does not involve finding a man.
The one point that I felt got a little shafted when it came to speaking in detail with this film was the way that these images affect young men. While they mentioned that they do affect men by showing them that women are objects and they this thought process leads to a rape culture because women are seen as less then human. I felt they could have gone a little deeper with how men experience this phenomena and what their perception of the images are. Many of the men and young boys in the film discussed how masculinity came along with certain ideas about women. They also talked about the pressure to be considered masculine, one example is how you have to be unwilling to show emotion if you are to be good at being a man. I think these issues could have been explored more because it is very important to understand that negative images of women and ubermasculine images of men have huge impacts on what young boys learn about gender and how they are supposed to act.
The way that these negative images of women in society affect young girls was clear in this film. Girls are subjected to higher rates of depression, the majority of news articles about women are focused on how they are victimized, and the majority of women in North America are struggling with body issues. This is because women are constantly faced with images that show how we are not good enough or do not match the standard image of women, an image that is the farthest thing from reality going. This article is a very brief overview of some ideas presented in this film but I strongly encourage that you find a way to watch it because it will help broaden the ways that we view women’s oppression. The film again is called Miss Representation. I think that Girls Inc had a fantastic turn out for the film as well, which means that people are willing to learn and understand more about how powerful a tool media is in its ability to shape our perceptions. We need to provide our children with the tools to be critically aware of the images that they see in the media and fight to make changes in the way that women are represented in popular media and their treatment as a result of this image.


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