Friday, November 18, 2011

Pass the Popcorn — and the Outrage

Women are 51% of the U.S. population.

Women are ...
3% of clout positions in mainstream media
3% of Fortune 500 CEOs
7% of mainstream film directors
16% of film protagonists
17% of Congress

I repeat, women are 51% of the U.S. population. What's wrong with the rest of these numbers?

Yesterday, despite it being a school night, I drove my 14-year old daughter into Boston to see a movie. It wasn't your typical trip to the cinema. We weren't in deep velveteen chairs, munching overpriced popcorn and sipping watered down soda.

Instead, we were on stacking function chairs (you know, the metal ones with padded seats that are supposed to be soft and comfortable but after an hour and a half ... well ... not so much). We were in the library of the Back Bay YWCA, surrounded by smart, edgy, engaged women and a couple of brave men. The documentary we had come to see was running on a laptop, projected on a small portable screen. There was no concession stand, but we did sneak in some leftover Halloween candy.

I, for one, was very happy to be there.

I first learned about Miss Representation several months ago. The trailer was posted on Women's Voices for Change, a fabulous online magazine to which I often contribute cultural pieces. I was mesmerized by it and looked forward to catching the film in its entirety. Unfortunately, that wasn't so easy to do.

Movie distribution is a business, yeah, I get it. Let's take a look at the top grossing titles this year: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Fast Five. These are not woman-centric movies (despite Hermione's best efforts to be one of the Hogwarts' boys, the only other females are bimbos and pirate wenches). These are most certainly not documentaries about how the media depicts women and the consequences thereof.

Without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I have to point out also that the great majority of the people making decisions about which films are released when, where and in how many theatres are ... men. Despite the fact that women are not actually a minority in this country, women are very much outnumbered in the corner offices at every media conglomerate. Miss Representation's message is demonstrated by its own difficulty getting out there.

Miss Representation was written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who introduces the topic in a meaningful and personal way. After sharing her own poignant history, she explained that her mission in making the movie was to understand the world into which she was about to bring her new baby daughter. In example after example, Newsom exposes how commercial media — and its pervasive and continued objectification of girls and women — lead undeniably to the under-representation of females in positions of influence and power.

In the course of the 90-minute movie, we heard powerful first-person accounts from politicians, journalists, activists, entertainers and academics, as well as extremely articulate teenage girls. These young women were angry about their own potential in a world that values women (even Presidential and Supreme Court candidates!) based on how they look rather than their intellect and accomplishments.

The movie ended to earnest applause from the small but enthusiastic crowd. Attendees were invited to stay for a discussion, but we had to hit the road (or face an even more grueling wake-up-and-get-to-school routine than usual). This was the moment of truth. Did my daughter think I was preaching? Did she think I was overreacting?

"That was so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o good!" she told me.

Good? Yes, good. Good as in frightening. Good as in important. Good as in powerful. Good as in every mother and every young woman should get out and watch this movie.

My daughter and I don't always see eye-to-eye. (Is that not the understatement of the year!) But, we agree about this. We encourage you to seek out Miss Representation and see it.


  1. I saw an online version (perhaps a trailer?) and I was so depressed when it was over. Sad for me, sad for our daughters, sad for the world, actually.

  2. Hi Cheryl.

    I agree. But, within the film there are also great moments of promise and hope. I was so impressed with the young women — bright, articulate, exceptional high school students — who are pushing back, testifying, refusing to accept the status quo.

    The biggest thing I want my daughter to take away is that women are NOT a minority. Yet we are marginalized. We need to challenge the media, the advertisers, the newscasters. We need to work together to create change.