Last night I attended a screening of Miss Representation, a new documentary film written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, filmmaker, actress and wife of California's Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. The title of this groundbreaking film is a play on the words used in beauty pageants and also a revealing interpretation of the messages mainstream media uses to market women.
According to Miss Representation, which premiered at the October 2011 Sundance Film Festival, aired on OWN and will soon be released on DVD, American teenagers -- in one week -- spend 31 hours watching TV, 17 hours listening to music, 3 hours watching movies, 4 hours reading magazines and 10 hours online. That's 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption every day.
Since the media plays a dominant role in shaping and defining the issues of political discussion, Miss Representation argues that we've handed over quite a lot of influence to outlets that are primarily driven by ratings, circulation and profits. Those aren't dirty words except when you get the most out of all three by constantly going for the lowest common denominator.
It's the American way to make a profit but does it mean that it has to happen at the cost of exploiting and demeaning women? Miss Representation calls mainstream media and the advertising industry to task for not doing its homework and for its constant narrowing of the potential of girls by putting them into designed slots of people who are smart but unattractive or attractive but ditzy.
What's so powerful about Miss Representation is that it reveals that what drives those ratings, circulation and profits is the packaging of gender stereotypes in a way that's different and more pervasive than Americans have previously experienced. Regulatory restrictions or filters on language, visuals and hours of programming are now gone. Cable, radio and the internet are now 24/7 insatiable machines which must constantly be fed with content. As long as people tune-in or buy sexist, vacuous, superficial, violent programming then that's what will hit the airwaves or sit on store shelves.
Miss Representation takes "the medium is the message" dialogue to another level. The 90-minute film interviews teenage girls, politicians, journalists, entertainers, activitists and academics, such as Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Rosario Dawson and Margaret Cho, and shows scores of examples of how mainstream media belittles women who have achieved or are trying to achieve leadership positions.
Newsom's Miss Representation takes the stand that what hurts girls also hurts boys. If boys get used to viewing plastic, photo shopped and airbrushed images of women how are they going to relate to the real deal? If women's value comes only from youth, beauty and sexuality, then what type of culture are we becoming?
Please watch the Miss Representation trailer and decide for yourself: