Women in the Media: Why Our Stories Count

I wasn’t sure if I would post twice this week, given President’s Day and the soon-coming Beauty of a Woman BlogFest. Then I saw Miss Representation, Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s poignant documentary on the media’s portrayal of women. The 2011 release left me heartbroken and hope-filled, and my teary eyes more fully open. It heightened my determination to keep writing and supporting artists and creative works that uplift women, rather than hold us back or beat us down.

Miss Representation cover

While I was somewhat familiar with its information, Miss Representation gave me perspective regarding facts and notions I’ve wondered about and believed—not simply about media or society, but my personal journey. I also appreciated the fact that the film depicted the misrepresentation of females not as a men versus women or conservatives versus liberals issue, but a human one; we all benefit from balanced, empowering media. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you will.

Startling facts and quotes from Miss Representation:

Women account for 51% of the population, yet hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising. (This doesn’t necessarily make the content “wrong,” but imbalanced.)

“All of Hollywood is run on one assumption: That women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women. It is a horrible indictment of our society of we assume that one half of our population is just not interested in the other half.” – Geena Davis

“Women and girls are the subject of less than 20% of news stories. “When a group is not featured in the media… it is called symbolic annhilation.” – Martha Lauzen, Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film

Miss Representation 2

The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth 18 or younger more than tripled from 1997 to 2007.

Among youth 18 and younger, liposuction nearly quadrupled between 1997 and 2007 and breast augmentations increased nearly six-fold in the same 10-year period.

65% of American girls and women have reported disordered eating behaviors. (As a side note, a similar percentage of American adults are obese—a direct consequence of media’s portrayal of “beauty,” and the $45 billion diet industry, in my opinion—which is supported by vast amounts of research. ;))

If you’re as heated up as I am over these matters, good. As Gloria Steinem famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” A little fire can go a long way…

Miss Representation quote KC

Miss Representation illustrates ways in which media can be both powerfully destructive and constructive. I don’t know about you, but Couric’s insight makes me want to join with like-minded others and put my pilot cap.

More than a film, Miss Representation is a campaign. Visit MissRepresentation.org, where you can take a valuable pledge and order the documentary. Miss Representation is also available via Amazon Instant Video.

For more on women in film, check out Karina Wilson’s Lit Reactor article, Screenwriting: Insert Woman Here – Sidestepping the Sausage Fest. It’s an insightful must-read.

If I was excited for the Beauty of A WomanBlogFest II before, I’m excited-on-steroids now. I can’t wait to read participant’s posts as we explore and celebrate real beauty and the women who possess it. If you’d like to sign up, please do so by the end of the day Wednesday, February 20th by visiting BOAW. To participate as a reader, join us here this Friday.

Have you seen Miss Representation? Which of the facts most struck you? What are you willing to do to make media a more balanced, women-supportive place?

Leave a comment

28 Comments

  1. Speaking as a 4 year old who is contemplating Botox, I would say these procedures have a place in the world. *ahem*

    And yet.

    When I see that you are talking about cosmetic procedures being given to girls 18 years and younger, I am suspicious. Whaaat? Who would do such a thing? I actually need to know more about these statistics because THAT is truly alarming. And, if they are accurate, they reflect a sad reality about our society: that we are more looks fixated than ever. I know the beauty and diet industries are booming — but, I can’t imagine doctors — real licensed doctors — performing these procedures of little girls.

    Can you tell me more about where you got those statistics?

    Reply
    • They’re all from the film, Renee, but I’ve heard and read similar stats elsewhere. Lots more information is available MissRepresentation.org (links above). If you don’t find what you’re seeking there, drop me a note and I’ll provide more links.

      Living in LA, the findings don’t surprise me… I’ve had several young female nutrition clients whose parents have made horrendous requests, such as “Can you make her butt smaller?” and “She could look as hot as her mother.” (Yep—an entire post in the makings there…) It’s all heart-breaking.

      Reply
  2. You know, supporting all of this is good, but it means that a little of me has to die. That part of me that sees women as the “fairer” sex and outrageously beautiful has to take, at least, a second seat for all this to work in my head. I am okay with that; it’s just a death is a death, sigh, some of my tradition is going…
    Scott

    Reply
    • Thanks for your honest insight, Scott, and your willingness to support women and society’s progression. I think what’s important is broadening our definition of beauty for women, not eliminating it from our perception or “de-womanizing” females. Does that make sense? I’d love to more smart, strong, stylish women on magazine covers, for example, rather than namely seductive shots of scantily clad, photoshopped women.

      Reply
  3. I am just a small voice here, but it seems that men will watch women in film IF it appeals to their interests. On the other hand, they are not interested in emotional roller coaster Oprah Winfrey type movies or books. My husband just devoured The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and he rarely reads novels and they are LONG books. That’s the kind of woman heroine men and women both can get behind.
    We just need to create more of those types of characters…

    I just took a screenwriting class with a woman named Tod Davies who had several of her screenplays made into movies including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

    Reply
    • There’s definitely truth in that, Susie, but I believe (and the film argues) that today’s media is instilling negative impressions and views of women in our youth–not simply providing what viewers want, but creating and shifting those wants. Boys who read or watch porn and play violent video games, for example, are more likely to view women as inferior and as sexual objects and become violent themselves.

      I love that many books, movies and TV shows are presenting strong female characters, such as the Dragon Tattoo series, with such broad appeal. We need more of those! 🙂

      Reply
    • I think that both of these are right on. If you take “appeals to their interests” to mean “wears implausibly tight/revealing clothing and blows shit up, or gets naked a bunch,” then yeah, no need to appeal to those interests any more than we already are.

      But I’d sure like to see more smart, strong women in films and books that have problems that are bigger and more cross-gender-relatable than which of two hunkysensitive guys to end up with. Like, I’m not going to watch or read anything by Nicholas Sparks or Stephenie Meyer, ever (or ever again, in the former case). Media that is successful with women and not with men seems to tend to focus on a woman’s feelings — broken-hearted, torn between two worlds, etc. — while giving short shrift to the reasons *behind* those feelings. Certainly not because women are less cerebral or more sensitive or emotional, but because those stories rely on a sort of shared experience — you don’t NEED the whole thing spelled out for you to relate to it because you’ve been there, or been in situations that allow you to imagine yourself there, in a way most men cannot have been. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if the goal is to get men interested in stories about women that don’t focus on the things that appeal to men on a visceral or biological level, then there needs to be more storytelling, more showing, and less pure emotion.

      IMO.

      Reply
    • melaniehooks

       /  March 1, 2013

      Great to hear of a woman screenwriter leading classes! I’ve had great luck in that department w TV writing via UCLA Extension, but not for features. Any chance she’s doing another one soon? Wd you mind sharing her website if she has one? Kudos!

      Reply
  4. August, I have not seen Miss Rep but my heart aches for all the women, young and old, who are affected by the media’s view on females at times. I was a teen with eating issues and still battle as an adult, but thankfully feel confident in my body image now (and that I know will never be perfect). I feel relieved not to have a daughter at times, but my 10 yr old son has expressed worry over his weight and says he is fat – and this horrifies me as I never want him to have the issues I did. He eats healthy and is rarely sick and I focus on a healthy lifestyle with him instead of weight. You also bring up something I hadnt thought of -that the male population are less inclined to watch a female lead. It probably hadnt occurred to me as my husband is open to any lead and movie type (unless it has subtitles – LOL). Some of our movies we really enjoy together over and over w/ female leads are Pretty Woman, Erin Brokovich, The Ugly Truth, Chocolat, Million Dollar Baby, Silence of the Lambs, Titanic. To name a few.

    Reply
  5. Fabulous post, August. I know this to be true – speaking of the Geena Davis quote, but yet haven’t seen that played out with the men in my circles. They’ll watch a movie that is well-done and has a great story regardless of whether the lead is male or female. But, when an industry is run by a boys-club it’s hard to see past their own desires maybe?

    Reply
  6. I just added this to netflix and will be watching it soon.

    Reply
  7. I have not seen it, but I certainly intend to now. Sounds like something I need to own, as http://www.WestCoastPosse.com is pretty much all about that, or my perception of it thus far. Sounds from your post like I’m not far off, and I’m so proud to be joining you, August, in the same effort for our 51% to be heard and represented in a balanced manner. In fact, I will have an essay published in the upcoming book, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics (Sugati Publications, Spring 2013, http://www.womenandpolitics.us). And I’m delighted the time has almost come to join other beautiful representatives of our 51%, as well perhaps as members of the other almost half, to celebrate the BOAW BlogFest this week. We Beautiful Women ROCK! And in 2013, the year of the snake, when all things are possible, soon we will be ROCKIN’ this world, in only the most beautiful and positive ways.

    Reply
  8. Raani York

     /  February 19, 2013

    I will of course go and take a peek now August. Thank you for sharing this!

    Reply
  9. Thanks for letting us know about this movie! It sounds great and really important. I worry all the time about how young girls are being influenced by our culture. Working with kids, I see the issues on a daily basis. Girls are starting to see themselves as fat and diet in elementary school. It is scary. And then there is all the emphasis on boys. We do need to do something for our girls. I think the movie debate is also an interesting one. I for one don’t watch Nicholas Sparks movies. The previews alone are enough to turn me off. I agree that we need more books and movies with strong female characters. I am excited to see this movie and I will come back to read the blog posts for the blogfest. I am sorry I didn’t know about it far enough in advance to participate, but I’ll enjoy it as a reader.

    Reply
  10. August, this is such an important post. Miss Representation is a documentary that every single person should see. The viewing should be mandatory in high school. Your stats (taken from those in the film) are absolutely correct. When I participated as a speaker at a women’s conference last September, the most impressive talk there was about this very film. I think I can safely say that all 250 women in the room were stunned by what this film revealed after all the careful research put into it. The instant standing ovation it received was emotional!
    I also heard Geena Davis speak at Canadian Women’s Foundation meeting in Toronto last year and her foundation, The institute on Gender in Media, http://www.seejane.org/, is another example of the need to focus on these essential issues.
    What a fantastic precursor this post is to the BOAW on Friday!

    Reply
  11. The plastic surgery statistics make me so incredibly sad. If so many young girls feel the need to augment and downsize and morph themselves then we have clearly given them the wrong picture of what beauty means.

    Reply
  12. I haven’t seen the movie, but did you know that three of the top four US defense companies are now run by women? Not a bad statistic in what used to be a male dominated industry.

    Good luck with blogfest II! 🙂

    Cheers!

    Reply
  13. Kourtney Heintz

     /  February 21, 2013

    Excellent post August. I stopped reading fashion magazines years ago. They only made me feel bad about myself. All the ads just reinforce the idea that women are inadequate as they are. It’s really sad. Plastic surgery should be a final option to fix something that is truly broken not a band-aid for self esteem.

    Reply
  14. I haven’t seen this, but now want to. There is so much pressure on young women to conform to these unrealistic and unhealthy ideals of beauty – more so t han when I was a teen. My 17y.o. daughter gets very concerned about and angered by these issues (she did her senior research paper on eating disorders). Definitely emailing this to her – mayne we’ll watch together. I think the best thing I can do is keep writing stories about strong, smart women who save the world!

    Reply
  15. We need a few Presidents who are women!

    Reply
  16. August, I haven’t seen it, but it’s on my list—for, like, NOW. I’ve heard a lot about it and now I’ve moved it to the top of my must-see flicks. Can’t wait to come back and weight in again afterwards….thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  17. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’

    Love that.

    Yesterday afternoon I gleefully removed the cello from The Bionic Woman, Season One, and watched the first few episodes with my soon-to-be-twenty daughter. Led to some interesting discussion. Unlike the generations before me, I’ve felt fortunate to have Nancy Drew, Jaime Sommers, Sabrina Duncan (my fave Angel) demonstrate the power to take the lead, to right wrongs, to stand strong.

    Who did the earlier generations have to look to? Who were the role models for women who moved into men’s roles while still running the home and rearing their children when men went to war? What inner gumption drove us for the vote?

    I’ve made a few stops on the Beauty of a Woman train, August. You done good.

    Reply
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