Miss Representation

Miss Represention

Jennifer Siebel Newsom (2011)

Film Review

Miss Representation takes an in-depth look at sexualization of women and girls by the corporate media. In addition to examining the psychological damage this inflicts, the film explores the largely commercial factors behind it, as well as potential solutions.

The primary role of American media (TV programming and ads, movies, music videos, billboards, etc) is to convince women that their personal appearance and the approval of men should be their number one priority.

Even more pernicious, the media project a totally unattainable standard of beauty. What makes this messaging particularly harmful is that girls and women incorporate it subconsciously without realizing it. It’s especially dangerous for the developing brains of teenagers, who lack the critical judgment skills to weigh what they see and hear. By age 17, 78% of girls are unhappy with their bodies. Even more ominous, 68% of American women and girls develop an eating disorder in their determination to be skinnier.

The effect of this messaging on men and boys is to condition them to value a woman’s appearance above intelligence, integrity and other personal characteristics.

TV’s Fixation with Youth

Although women forty and over represent 44% of the population, they only play 26% of TV roles. Being youthful isn’t enough for female TV celebrities – who are frequently pressured to lose weight or undergo breast enhancement and/or botox and collagen injections.

The film outlines three principle reasons for the entertainment industry’s one dimensional portrayal of women. The pressure to live up to an impossible ideal is incredibly effective in selling beauty products. American women spend millions of dollars yearly on cosmetics and plastic surgery, far more than they spend on education.

The media’s constant parade of stunning, sexually provocative bodies is also essential in luring men aged 18-34 (the demographic targeted by advertisers) into watching TV. Men this age tend not to watch TV, except for sports.

Finally nearly all the decision makers in the entertainment industry are men. At Walt Disney, only 4 out of 13 board members are women. At GE (which runs NBC), the ration is 4/17. At Time Warner, it’s 2/13, Viacom 2/11, CBS 2/14 and Fox 1/16. Only 16% of movie and TV directors, producers and editors are women and only 7% of screenwriters

Low Representation in Government

The objectification of women by the mass media discourages them from playing leadership roles in business, community affairs, academia and politics. The US is rapidly falling behind developing countries in this regard. Unlike the US, 67 other countries have elected female presidents and prime ministers, and the US is 90th in female representation in government. China, Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq all have more female representatives in their national legislatures.

Two direct outcomes of this low representation are unequal pay (American women still only earn 77% of what men earn for comparable work) and the failure of the US to mandate parental leave (like all other industrialized countries) following childbirth.

Even more ominously, numerous studies link the media’s objectification of women with growing rates of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Negative Effect on Men

Miss Representation also speaks briefly to the negative effect of this systematic gender distortion on men. Bombarded by constant media pressure to be smarter, more powerful and more respected than women – as well as making more money – men can find it difficult to cope when this fails to pan out real life. This psychological conditioning also causes young men to be “emotionally constipated.” Lacking realistic no role models, men can have a hard time learning to express emotions in a healthy way.

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11 thoughts on “Miss Representation

  1. What ever happen to i am women i am strong. It is true that most people are victims of mass media and stereotyping is part of brainwashing but somehow this film dosn’t resolve any of issues dividing us.

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    • I think younger women are the most brainwashed, as they have grown up with constant mental conditioning by the corporate media. The insidious messaging is extremely hard to resist if that’s all you hear everyday.

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  2. What’s really frightening about this scenerio is its almost exact similarity to points that were repeatedly stressed in the 1970s.
    Thanks, Stuart! This is a very good wake-up call and a (yikes!) timely post.

    I dream of millions of women descending on D.C with a list of all the fucking basic things our mothers fought so long and hard for, from the right to higher education, to getting basic financial credit, to claiming their own bodies, entering male professions, getting safe, legal abortions, equal pay, college athletic equity, shutting Freudians UP, opening a fucking bank account, fighting sexual harassment, playing the drums and even buying a used car!

    I imagine millions of female voices yelling at the white male power brokers:
    “THIRTY YEARS AGO! Thirty years! Discussion over! You lost! Look it up!
    Not one more minute wasted! Not one more word!”

    “The next guy who says ‘Real Rape’, ‘Christian Nation’, ‘Race Card’, ‘Deport all parasites who can’t even speak English, except the Cubans’
    OR
    any variation of ‘ Give me my gun!’ is getting — water-boarded!

    “We’re here for just one reason: to stop you evolutionary Bio-Hazards from destroying this planet!

    You got it?”

    A blessed silence falls, Nearby, birds are heard singing, A strong wind begins to blow.

    (Curtain falls) XO

    _________________________

    P S. – Stuart, I lost your comment about police cameras, as well as my reply. Sorry, My laptop has more tech problems than I have room to list, (-:

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    • Interesting you mention 1970s feminism. I and several other women have started a feminist consciousness raising group (just like the ones we went to in the seventies) here in New Plymouth. I’m really surprised by the number of young women in their 20s who attend – and their desire to discuss many of the issues raised in this film.

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  3. Yes, it’s vital to include them. But not without a political analysis. Historians treat that decade as one of the West’s most significant historical developments. A movement of such sheer scope fights tooth and nail to protect its gains, and trumpets every loss: “We’ve lost half of our movements goals. Our sucess lasted a decade.”
    I’m seriously asking. For example, how could CISPES have done any political organizing in Seattle given a parallel context? If hard-fought gains slip away without struggle (ie, your movement is under attack! ) and young people have already lost such recent history, are we to keep reinventing the wheel? If so, this culture isn’t intact enough to sustain a common frame of reference, let alone launch the kind of political resistence we all blog about,
    .
    Stuart, I’m addressing any blogger who identifies seriously as a political activist and happens to read this, I’m not picking on you.
    (Although I would appreciate a reply to the beginning of this comment,)
    Thanks a lot,
    Oh yeah, I tweeted some of your stuff.

    Have a good weekend,
    Claire

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    • I agree political analysis is essential. However I also believe that self-organized groups need to develop their own political analysis. It’s not up to me or to anyone else to instruct young people on what their political analysis should be. For direct democracy to work, it has to be up to self-organized groups to develop their own political analysis. And in my experience, this tends to happen spontaneously so long as members aren’t restricted in what they’re allowed to talk about.

      What I find really interesting is there are enough older women in our group with a well-developed political analysis that we seem to automatically discuss other issues, such as institutionalized racism (right now most of the women in the group are fighting to establish a Maori seat on New Plymouth District Council), globalization (I’ve organized an anti-TPPA group with one of the women), severe income inequality and discrimination against the mentally ill and seniors in the health system.

      I’ve been a grassroots/community organizer for 33 years now, and the only way I know to successfully engage people against the ruling elite is to help people recognize their problems result from oppression, rather than personal failings. And this is what I see happening in our feminist group, as well as in the NZ Green Party and other community initiatives I’m involved in.

      In other words, this works for me in my organizing. I assume your organizing approach is shaped by your own organizing experiences.

      I don’t blog about my Green Party organizing activities much because we are both a grassroots and a legislative party with 14 MPs in Parliament. For this reason, we must seek approval from our media spokesperson to post articles about the NZ Greens on social media sites. We have had disastrous experiences with the mainstream and right wing media picking up stray social media posts and using them to portray the Party in an extremely negative light.

      As for Seattle CISPES, as I write in my memoir, we were infiltrated by the FBI with the result that leftists who tried to bring any political analysis to the group were ostracized and excluded. This was done by deliberate expulsion and by the formation of splinter groups that advocated for education and legislative lobbying only, as opposed to direct action. The first group to split off from CISPES was the Seattle Peace Coalition in 1982. The second was an administrative entity (run by spooks) called the Washington State Subregional CISPES. The end result was that members got so fed up by “factional infighting” that our meetings had shrunk from 60 to 4 members when we ultimately folded in 1985.

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    • Aunty, the psychological messaging pumped out by the mass media has become so pervasive (from age 3 up) that I believe it has far more effect on what men think and believe than what they’re taught at home. And from everything I see, the corporate media deliberately debases and objectifies women. Sad but true.

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      • Yes, this is sad, Stuart, but this is the way it is. The way the Corporate Media dictates our home life reminds me a bit of 1984. Women spending more on cosmetics and the like than on education shows how effective the media is. Do women get punished when they do something the media bosses don’t want them to do? And what sort of punishment, I wonder, is handed out to them? Maybe they do not get the job they’ve been aiming for? Some well groomed woman may get it instead. Just to survive most women have to turn to cosmetics, right? Or is there another choice for the majority of women? The Women’s Liberation Movement had a significant effect some time ago. Something similar might happen again. In the meantime Macho Man and Super Powerful Man will continue to subjugate women! Luckily there are some other men too. Women have to support men who do not act macho and who do not strive to achieve super, super power! A lot has to do with earning capacity and the way corporations make their money – – –

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