Miss Representation: A Review

Miss Representation, a documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

(note –there is a cool-ass Austin event at the end of this posting. check it out!)

Summary: Women’s portrayal in the media generally, um, sucks. OK, so it’s not a very literary word, but that sums it up so nicely. It stinks on several fronts: crazy as this sounds, we women INTERNALIZE this crap and end up not liking ourselves for it, and it pits us against one another (which the media would have us believe is just our nature). It’s also not good because women who are in roles of power  (e.g. Hilary Clinton et al), get dogged in the media,  so that women leader role-models become fewer and further between. And, finally, it is cruddy for all because it drains us as a culture – it hurts boys and men too when one-half of a productive society is objectified and not represented in that same society.

I should start out by saying that this ‘women’s portrayal in the media’ has been a hot button of mine for quite some time. Pretty much since college when I discovered my feminist voice through the Women’s Studies program at my liberal university, where I took lots of my electives outside of the business school (I have since decided that if one takes all electives outside of the school in which your major resides, perhaps you should be looking at that. Although, what would I have done with a Women’s Studies major? Perhaps I would have gone on to have babies, write a blog from home and do reviews on documentaries covering feminist issues?). Anyway, I saw the movie a few months back on OWN (Oprah’s Network), and my head has been spinning a bit since, but let me make some sense of things. Before I begin perhaps I should declare some of my credentials that make me qualified to write a review on this film: ummmmm, hmmmm, let’s see… I am a woman. I am a feminist.  I have a daughter. My aforementioned Womens Studies classes? I am 40 now so I’m very wise. I love movies. I love to write. In the end, I guess my credentials for writing this review are pretty much the same as the woman who created the film: primarily, that I care. And I am deeply bothered by the issues that the film outlines. I want to be part of the solution. One of the biggest parts of the solution, that I see, is just to TALK about it. Among  women. Among men. With our DAUGHTERS and SONS. Before we can talk about it, however, we need to be made aware. 

The film was created by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and her credentials, despite what I wrote above, are plenty. During her MBA program at Stanford, she worked overseas working with a global environmental organization, where her primary focus was providing micro-enterprise opportunities to women. After business school she moved to Los Angeles where she performed in numerous films and TV shows, so she knows a bit about “the media” as she was a part of it. She went on to found Girls Club Entertainment to develop and produce independent films that empower women. She opens the film with any mother’s story – about having a baby. She had a baby girl, just like I did. She worried about the state of our world and the implications it had for her daughter. Yep, me too. But she, unlike myself, made an award-winning documentary film to raise awareness and to start a big conversation. She is the Founder and CEO of MissRepresentation.org – a call-to-action campaign centered on the themes the film. I simply took the pledge – it was the least I could do. And I’m organizing a screening here in Austin (details at the end of this post). 

First, allow me the grand conjecture that I believe the film to be well done – it tells a good story. It is chillingly convincing. Some of the statistics seem a  bit over-blown – the number of hours teenagers watch TV, read magazines, on the internet, etc, for example, added up to a staggering 10.5 hours of media exposure a day. Really? Don’t they go to school or something? These statistics all clearly come from other sources and the film maker simply reports them, so this isn’t really a diss on the film. I chalk this up to the statistics amp factor – all statistics are a little over-blown for one big reason: our world is crowded with messages, and every organization out there has to make their issue seem like the most pressing one so they can earn grants and attract donations. Everyone’s stats get a bit amped, within justifiable reason, of course, because most of the statistics are estimates to some degree. Who am I to say the stats are inaccurate, I’m just saying, if you are like me, you might have a skeptical moment around some of them in the film. And that’s fine, as long as you watch on because… 

This movie is really important. It’s important to women, it’s important to girls, but it’s equally important to men and boys who are as damaged by women’s portrayal in the media. There is a cost to society when half of it is not empowered, one way or another. There is also a very direct cost to the male’s psyche that a) also ends up trying to live up to some media-make-believe ideal and b) never quite finds satisfaction in relationships that do not involve a supermodel, or to be even more accurate, an air-brushed, computer image of a super model. 

In terms of watching the film- it’s pretty riveting. I found it a little frustrating at times when a big  statistic was shown (some involving rape, for example) and as my brain was trying to grasp that number, the film moved on to it’s next equally shocking statistic. I was left a little like I had been in a boxing match: here’s a  right and then a left… and now we are on to Gavin Newsom (California’s Lieutenant Governor, ex-Mayor of San Francisco AND he’s married to the film-maker, in case this felt a little random),one of several male voices in the film.

This was the other part of the movie that I had a little trouble following. It’s more a challenge with watching this type of film (lots of interviewees) than a commentary on this particular one, but there are a lot of very intelligent, very articulate people making GREAT points, but my friend and I found ourselves asking each other a lot, “wait, who is that again?” The film introduces them, of course, but there are a LOT of great participants in the film – from all kinds of industries, including academics who study the effect that this crap actually has on our own self-worth to people who come from the media. Many are highly recognizable – Katie Couric and Condoleezza Rice (and I MUST shamefully admit here I have always dismissed her due to her close affiliation with a certain G.W. Bush, whom I’ve never cared for, but I pretty much love her now – more articulate, powerful women like her please!) to name just two. One of my favorite moments was just after some negative clips about Nancy Polosi, then who should show up, but Nancy Polosi herself. It was with nice effect. And though I’ve left them for last to mention, they really are the best for last – the movie features some really articulate, AMAZING high school girls who see a light and are speaking out for girls of their and every generation. Like Rosie O’Donell said in the discussion after the film, it’s these girls that give the rest of us hope.

I’m not going to say that the issues this film raises are easy and this film allows you to walk away feeling like there are all kinds of solutions under way. Quite the opposite. The issues raised are complicated and in some ways, it seems like there are no solutions. This film will set your mind thinking, and it may not stop, so there, you’ve been warned. Part of me was sad about the making of this film because, like I said, this has been a hot button for me for nearly 20 years and after this long, of course there is some, “Really? We are still talking about this?” and some “Really? It’s even worse now?” But after the film, during the Rosie O’Donnel hosted panel-discussion, where one of the panelists was Gloria Steinem (I just did a prostration), this lovely, lovely woman who has been working through this STUFF her entire adult life, was the beacon of positive reminders on how far women HAVE come since the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s…to now. Rosie raised a question early on, “WHY is it so bad right now?” This was one of the questions that I was left with after the film. Gloria (we are on a first name basis now) gracefully answered with a “because we have been successful. With change in one direction, there is always back-lash.” Ahhhh. That actually really calmed the ulcer I had brewing by the end of the 90 minute film. Either from the subject-matter or the 2 pieces of chocolate cake I indulged in while watching. 

One point that the film makes and is a beautiful reminder of is that media is not a portrayal of real life, although it likes to present itself as such. It is actually a sensationalized, un-real world created for our entertainment. But we are so bombarded by it – our children are so bombarded by it (and they may not have the facilities to constantly make this distinction) that we all end up forgetting that IT’S NOT REAL. The images are real and I think they do real damage. But where this gives me an enormous amount of hope is that it’s not about changing the behemoth we call “media” (which, by the way, this film and OWN, the network that was showing this film are part of “media”, so there’s the glimmer of hope right there, which Gloria also mentions), but just reminding ourselves and educating our children what “media” is and what it’s not. These images are created to get attention, and often, to sell products. It’s our CHOICE to pay attention or to buy the products. You’ve heard it before and it shows up in this movie too: Be the change you want to see. Or in the case, that you don’t want to see.

So there you have it. And now you (for those local you’s) can SEE it too AND, just because you are you, we are throwing in a kick-ass panel discussion afterwards that will focus on kids, the effect this stuff can have on them, and how to best parent through it. Come one. Come ALL. I can’t wait to see you there.



MissRepresentation Screening

ACE Academy
3901 Shoal Creek Blvd., Austin, TX 78756 
(Congregation Beth Israel)

Buy Tickets here. Scroll down to 2nd event.

March 1st. 6:30 p.m.

Followed by panel discussion 8:30-9:30

Panelists

Lisa Wellons Rothfus, LCSW, MSW, BeD. 
Licensed Psychotherapist with 23 years of experience working with individuals, families, groups, and schools. About KidKonnect: the only program in Austin that combines the disciplines of neuroscience, psychology, biology, and gender difference research to help parents and educators more effectively connect with and teach kids.

Julia Cuba, Executive Director of GENAustin (Girls Empowerment Network) A career of working in not-for-profit programs with women and at-risk girls, including Girls Scouts of Central TX. GENAustin works with girls to teach critical thinking, assisting girls to think independent of peers and the media.

Mark White, LCSW, LMFT 
Mark White is a social worker and licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in children, adolescents, parent consultation, families, and group therapy.

Audience

Parents and high school age children (but anyone welcome at parents own discretion). The film is not rated, but this is what Common Sense Media has to say.

Net proceeds to benefit ACE Academy

Sponsored by ThreeDefined
Call Carmen Sutherland, 415.531.6765 with questions