MissRepresentation, a documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Jennifer Siebel Newsom started making this documentary for her daughter, wondering about what kind of world she will grow up in. It’s about how the media objectifies and demeans women, and why, and what we can do about it. The film is spliced with thousands of clips from TV shows, movies, and commercials that perfectly prove the point about how pervasive objectification is. This TED talk gives an idea of what those montages of objectifying images are like. It also gives a great overview of why this issue is so important.

The documentary also includes lots of clips of media insiders like producers, directors, and actresses discussing the industry, young girls talking about the media’s effect on them, as well as academics and prominent feminists commenting on the whole phenomenon. Despite (and perhaps because of) so many voices participating, the argument is fairly coherent and definitely compelling and urgent.

Some of the film’s best points are about the way the media insists that female leaders must be attractive as well as full of great ideas and charisma. It’s an impossible standard, and the level of scrutiny they’re under is insane. Why would a young woman want to be a leader when she knows she’ll be treated this way? When she knows it will be headline news if she gains a few pounds or is seen in public without makeup? It’s a point that’s made very well in this sad, but realistic essay by a young woman who claims that her generation’s aversion to leadership does not stem from apathy, but from a rational assessment of what public women’s lives are like. Here’s another great bit of writing on how Hilary Clinton has admirably refused to play into the media’s insistence on feminizing her through discussions of fashion, baking, and similar topics.

The film is trying to make a connection between the way women are objectified and taught that their beauty is what makes them valuable, and the dearth of women leaders in government, and I think it does not completely succeed because of abrupt transitions between the two topics. I totally believe that the two things are connected, and the evidence is there in the film, but I’m kind of afraid that doubters (those blinded by male privilege) will feel that it’s a stretch because the film’s transitions between the topics are sometimes awkward, which makes the rhetorical connection seem more tenuous than it is.

This Ted talk gives some of the main talking points of the documentary in a nutshell:

As in the Ted talk, the film’s final message is one of hope: let’s take back the media and get women in charge of it, so that we can tell our own stories and create a better vision of the future for our daughters. MissRepresentation is an enjoyable and important documentary that should be required viewing for every Girl Scout troop, media criticism class, and family with preteen girls.


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