Miss Representation: Exploring the Media's Portrayal of Women

Anyone who watched the Superbowl would most likely agree, hyper-sexualized commercials featuring women in scantily clad outfits have taken over mass-media marketing. GoDaddy.com have actually begun prompting viewers to access their web site in addition to watching the TV ad, in order to see Danica Patrick, GoDaddy’s spokeswomen, in a more provocative setting (click the link to that ad if you're interested in what that entails, or better yet, don't bother). In doing so, the company avoids compliance with the more stringent FCC regulations regarding offensive content of a sexual nature. Is this simply good marketing? Companies knowing how to accurately target the predominately male audience and lure them to their products? Or, are such campaigns actually harming the way both men and women view women in society?

Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores these issues, and so many more, in her new feature length documentary, Miss Representation. Miss Representation debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January and is on its way to theaters across the country and educational institutions throughout the world. Newsom evaluates the messages sent by today’s media: that a woman’s true value lies in her physical attributes and sexuality, not in her actual abilities. Troubled by both the impact these messages have on young boys -- that women are objects of beauty meant to be enjoyed -- and the way the same messages are internalized by young girls, Newsom gathered a top-notch group of female activists to emphasize that something must be done to change our media.

This documentary comes at a rather fitting time when many argue that women have finally achieved greater parity with men, as exemplified by Hilary Clinton’s strength in the 2008 elections. Yet, Newsom shows how the same election highlighted just how much further there is yet to go. Yes, the United States finally had a woman running for the highest office, but the U.S. still ranks 90th in the world for women in national legislatures. That’s embarrassing. Newsom goes on to show that the issue goes so much deeper than just a lack of government representation. What is really at issue is how women are portrayed.

Society has become so fixated on a woman's appearance that even women have started attacking other women for not conforming to media's fabricated definition of beauty. One glance at the Miss Representation trailer and you’ll see clips from women in the media minimizing the accomplishments of other women because of physical attributes. Sitcoms, commercials, and even news shows continuously over emphasize the importance of a woman's age, beauty, and sexuality.

Despite the failings of today's media in portraying a sense of equality among the sexes, Newsom gives her viewers hope and offers real solutions. You can learn more about the film and what you can do to make a difference by visiting the Miss Representation website.

Check out the screening section to see if the film is playing near you or to find out how you can host a screening.

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Miss Representation