Highlights from the 2011 Benevolent Media Festival: On Sunday, November 6, Benevolent Media and BloomBars hosted a screening of Miss Representation, a documentary film that explores media's limited portrayal of women and girls. One audience member, fashion writer Claire Sevigny, reacts to the film.
Women make up 51 percent of the population in the United States, yet they hold only 17 percent of seats in Congress. The film Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom points out problems of the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence, examining issues like lower wages and the negative portrayals of girls and women in the media.
Media outlets force the self-objectification on girls and women through the use of archaic stereotypes and the hyper-sexualized feminine form, creating a vicious cycle that lowers confidence and ambition in women, as well decreases their likelihood of running for political office or affecting any change to the status quo. A quote from the character Miranda of "Sex in the City" sums up the stigmatization of women in consumer culture: “There are only two options for women,” she says, “Witch or sexy kitten.”
Marketers and media, controlled by a handful of conglomerated corporations lead by male majorities, perpetuate these stereotypes and dictate our culture. In this paradigm, the consumer holds power insofar as how they choose to spend their money. While the film does a very good job of identifying this obstacle, it leaves the responsibility of creating solutions to the audience. Women comprise 86 percent of the purchasing power in the country, according to the film. By using this power, we can convince media monopolies to portray and valorize the type of images and role models that we want to see.
Women must be their own advocates by creating our own role models, teaching our children (girls and boys) to value intellect over physical appearance, encouraging women to run for office, and changing the cultural idea that a woman doesn't have to choose between having children and a career. However, treating these issues as a uniquely female problem does the feminist movement a massive disservice. These are problems that concern everyone in our society, and men play a vital role in the equalization of the sexes.
I am incredibly proud of the handful of men who did attend the showing of Miss Representation, but I was saddened that, as I looked around the room, the audience was still a majority of women. Striving for equal rights and pay does not pit women against men. We need male role models who wash dishes and pick up the kids from daycare and set a strong example for their children, too. This is starting to appear more in television, like in the advertisement for “Go-Gurt,” a yogurt marketed to children, showing a father as the care giver, or on TV shows like "Up All Night," which portrays a stay-at-home dad adjusting to life as a new parent, while the mother, a busy television producer, goes back to work. Images like these in mainstream media are encouraging, but, as Miss Representation points out, at this rate, we will achieve parity in 500 years. Ultimately, what is good for 51 percent of the population is good for everyone. Let's not wait 500 years to make it happen.