Jennifer Siebel Newsom (2011)
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.