Miss Representation: Challenging media portayals of women

MissRepresentation

by Kirrily Schwarz, Contributor

Women are often portrayed in media in a hyper-sexualized, degrading and stereotyped manner.

But according to Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who wrote and directed the film “Miss Representation,” society generally is so desensitized to the gender “norms” portrayed in media that people accept this portrayal as natural.

Newsom says acceptance of gender norms begins with exposure to mass-media from a young age.

“Young girls hear all these comments about their looks,” she says, “and so few about their capacity to lead. From a young age, they are handicapped with the notion that their value lies in their beauty, while their brothers and other peers learn early on that they are our natural-born leaders.”

Essentially, Newsom’s point is this: You can’t be what you can’t see. If young girls are so repeatedly exposed to a certain portrayal of women, how can they expect to grow up to become anything but the women they see?

Newsom believes the way women are portrayed in media has self-perpetuating effects on the role women play in society. According to Newsom’s foundation MissRepresentation.org, the United States is still 90th in the world for the number of women in national legislature. Nationally, women hold only 3 percent of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65 percent of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

Tara Lampert, Women’s Studies adjunct professor, said our patriarchal society means that women often get a very generic, skewed or stereotyped representation in mainstream media. She said this has a significant effect on the way women perceive themselves, their bodies and their intellect.

“Women are hyper-sexualized, and when there really are great people out there doing great things, like Hilary Clinton, they’re ridiculed for their gender,” Lampert said. “We as a society need to let the media know that the way they represent women isn’t healthy, but the people making the ads and running the show are generally men.”

The UAA Women’s Studies Department is taking action and will be screening Newsom’s film as part of Women’s History Month.

It features high-profile women like Condoleezza Rice and Katie Couric and promises to leave the audience shaken and armed with a new perspective.

Lampert says showing the film is about opening people’s eyes and taking a critical look at the media.

“Never take anything at face value,” Lampet said. “Don’t accept it, question it.”

The film is screening at 5:30 p.m. March 19 in Room 307 of the UAA/APU Consortium Library.

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