DIR: Jennifer Siebel Newsom | Nonfiction Features of 2011 | USA | 2011 | 90 mins | English
Miss Representation was a film I had been seeking to watch for the past year. Even just watching the thriller had me excited, so it was with high hopes that I entered the Empire Granville theater to finally watch this documentary. I was not disappointed.
Spurred on by the birth of her daughter, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom created this film as a criticism of modern American media and its enslavement to the 256 billion dollar advertising industry. Citing tons of scary statistics by handfuls of respected medical and psychological associations, Newsom outlines a frightening world where women are treated as second class citizens, where their only worth is their beauty and their only power, their sexuality, which they must use as barter to make their way in the world. It’s a scary scenario—and it’s real.
From the toys girls play with, to the images they see on television, in music, in magazines and online, young girls are constantly bombarded with a narrow, unrealistic version of their reality. No woman is left unscathed, in particular female leaders, such as Hilary Clinton and Condaleeza Rice. Newsom systematically documents again and again how women are slighted in language and commentary in both obvious and insidious ways. Whether it’s a twist of a verb, or the ever downward necklines of local newscasters, an atmosphere of sexualization pervades American society.
Sure, Newsom implies, women are allowed to vote and to go after any job they want, but they are also conned into not wanting to exercise any of those rights by seductively manipulative media conditioning that teaches them to regress into brainless, petty creatures.
Lest you think women are the only ones affected here, think again. Newsom highlights men as well, and how the rigid gender roles being used to sell consumer goods are harming boys as well. In exchange for the sexualization of women, boys are also taught to expect this skewed reality as desirable. Have as many women as you can by acting as masculine as you can, and you have all the power, the message states and if you don’t—well, the consequences can be harsh.
Watching this film, I went through a myriad of emotions: disbelief, rage, sadness, shame, and cynicism. If all this is true, and I know it to be, and I know it to even be reflected in a lesser extent in my own reality, then how can there ever be change? I suppose one has to have a bit of faith that change is possible and has always happened against great odds. Newsom has some obviously, as her crusade has changed her life. She has her daughter to think of. We all have daughters and sisters and and mothers and cousins and friends to think of and aren’t they are worth fighting for? In the end, Newsom leaves us with hope, in the form of young women, and men, who are waking up and fighting back. Looking at the youthful audience around me, I had hope as well.
Jordana is an avid blogger and writer as well as Schema’s Social Media Coordinator. She loves writing about fashion, food, film and culture, but she also loves a good nap – things which sadly often conflict. You can find her online ramblings at @mizzjblog and @schema_magazine.