Our Rating: ★★★★☆
L Factor: Feminist Film
Short Take: Documentary on the way women are portrayed in the media
Alternate Titles:
Year: 2011
Duration: 85 min
Language: USA/English
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Writer: Jessica Congdon, Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Starring: Cory Booker, Margaret Cho, Katie Couric, Geena Davis, Rosario Dawson, Dianne Feinstein, Jane Fonda, Paul Haggis, Catherine Hardwicke, Dolores Huerta, Jackson Katz, Jean Kilbourne, Martha Lauzen, Lisa Ling, Rachel Maddow

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Miss RepresentationBack when I was I was in college, I remember seeing the film Killing Us Softly. This Jean Kilbourne documentary focused on the role of advertising and the media and its connections to gender stereotypes and violence against women. It was a real eye opener for me. Fast forward to 2011 and the new film Miss Representation, which premiered at Sundance and was picked up by Oprah Winfrey for broadcast.

Miss Representation takes on the media’s portrayal of women but also looks at the lack of women in positions of power in American business, politics and academia. Its tagline is, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Interviews with political leaders like Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein focus on some of the challenges they’ve faced by being marginalized and stereotyped as women, but also how important it is to see role models in the media.

Rice talks about the underrepresentation of women in American politics and mentions, “You also have to have a kind of psychological breakthrough. Can an American see a woman or an African American in that position? I think with a woman, we still have a bit to go.”

Both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were regularly ridiculed. The media is so derogatory to women in power, and there are so few women in positions of power, how can everyday women and girls break free of the stereotypes?

News personalities like CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric, out lesbian Rachel Maddow (host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show), and Lisa Ling (host of OWN’s Our America) talk about the pressure to dress in a sexualized way, versus male colleagues who are not sexualized. Couric frets that she may have worn skirts that were too short back in her days as a Today Show host. Maddow talks about the huge amount of hate mail she receives focused on the way she dresses and on her sexual orientation.

“Sometimes I look on the cable news channels,” says Couric, “and they’re wearing very low-cut shirts and lots of makeup and their hair is kind of tousled and they look like they’re working as cocktail waitresses instead of newscasters. It’s just a very mixed message.”

Other women interviewed include actors Jane Fonda, Geena Davis and Margaret Cho, along with a long list of academics and activists like Gloria Steinem and Dolores Huerta. Discussions with high school students are interspersed, giving the perspective of young women growing up with a media focused on women as bitches and sluts. As Cho says, “The media treats women like shit and it’s horrible, and I don’t know how we survive it. I don’t know how we rise above it.”

The film does try to cover a lot of ground, which may be considered a weakness. On the other hand, it does a good job of identifying lightning rods for things that need to change. The numerous interviews are very well done and interesting, and you should come away feeling indignant and ready to do something.

How to create change is always a question, but the film starts by just suggesting that we shouldn’t support advertisers who use demeaning messages and images, and we should share that information with our social circles on and offline. Most importantly, we as women need to write our own stories. (AB)