I recently attended the opening night of the WOW Festival at the Southbank Centre in London. They showed a screening of the documentary film Miss Representation, followed by a panel discussion featuring the film's creator Jennifer Siebel Newsom and prominent women in Great Britain's media, politics, law and finance worlds.
The documentary powerfully depicted the catastrophic messages the media sends and the detrimental affect they have on our society - young girls and women in particular. It clearly showed the manipulative nature of advertising agencies and how beauty standards are transformed into unhealthy and unachievable ideals. Clips ranging from Disney films over sitcoms to political news coverages depicted women in an objectifying and disrespectful manner. It became very clear that the media have a very dominating message about women and to women - that a woman's worth is based on her physical attractiveness. On a personal level, I was appalled to what degree individual women and womanhood in general are subject to objectification and disrespect.
A recurring theme seemed to be that women should no longer accept being put in this demeaning role by the men who run the media. The clips showed news anchors moving their bodies and mouths in a suggestive manner and wearing clothes that looked more like cocktail dresses than professional attire. It was repeated that it was men in the boardrooms of these television networks and also implied that it was men who were making women act and dress like this for the pleasure of the male audience. One example of this is seen in the film's trailer at 1:15 with Jane Fonda stating: "Media creates consciousness and if what gets put out there that creates our consciousness is determined by men we're not going to make any progress." The film itself ends with a quote by former mayor of Ottawa Dr. Charlotte Whitton: "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult." The level of contempt which Dr. Whitton had for men, and allegedly also Jews, is not one that is particularly empowering. It propagates an "us vs them" approach which misses the point and perpetuates the problem.
When Lady Gaga shoots a music video with hypersexualized depictions of male dancers wearing bags over their heads we can no longer point the finger at the men in the board rooms. Up until recently, the person in charge of creative direction and choreography of these shock-value productions was a woman named Laurieann Gibson. The demographic marketed to by these objectifying and provoking productions is also predominantly female. Another prime example is the bestselling book turned movie "Fifty Shades of Grey". The author E.L. James is female, as are the film's screenwriter Kelly Marcel and director Sam Tyler-Wood. The audience is ca 80% female. The novel combines pornographic depictions of dominance and sado-masochism with a young woman's thinking that if she gives a man everything he wants (while trying to figure out his messed up childhood) he will then give her the love and romance she is looking for. The story is filled with stereotypes and incredibly unhealthy examples of courtship, sexuality, romance and relationship.
There are of course countless examples of conscious women creating wonderful stories about and healthy and empowering depictions of women. Jennifer Lee co-directed "Frozen" which had a lovely twist to a traditional Disney plot. And the last couple of years have seen some incredible women writing powerful roles for themselves, such as Rashida Jones, Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey just to name a few.
The depiction and consumption of demeaning imagery is not a gender issue. It is a consciousness issue. We don't just need more women in the media. We need more conscious women in the media. We also need more conscious men in the media. And we need to raise the consciousness of every individual.
Apart from being slightly irritated by a perceived blaming aspect, I very much enjoyed watching MissRepresentation. I am very excited that Jennifer Siebel Newsom has now also made a documentary about the messages that we give to boys, and I am so grateful for the work that she does through the Representation Project. These efforts raise consciousness and create change in this arena.
If you have not yet seen it, watch MissRepresentation and if you want to get involved, take the pledge. This has grown to a movement which leverages buying power and conscious decision-making to influence the media. I am grateful for the work Jennifer Siebel Newsom does and wholeheartedly support the Representation Project.