The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker
This quote introduces the documentary Miss Representation on Netflix. The film examines the mainstream media’s depiction of women, and how this contributes to the lack of females in positions of leadership. It’s something I genuinely feel that all teen girls and young women can benefit from watching.
The first thing to say is that this film is purely looking at American media, which doesn’t always reflect the media here – HOWEVER there are a lot of parallels, and the UK isn’t exactly winning at the gender equality game in comparison to other countries at the moment.
The film looks at all of the female stereotypes we often see on screen, such as :-
- The Bitchy Boss (think Devil Wears Prada, Horrible Bosses, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal)
- The Desperate Woman Who Wants to be Saved (think Bridget Jones or basically any rom-com ever)
- The Body Prop (the woman who is just there to be sexy and wear a bikini. She is literally only existing for the male viewer)
- The ‘Frenemies’ who end up in catfights over boys (every scripted reality show going – sigh)
All of these characters tell us the same thing – that a woman’s entire value depends on how they look / appear to men. Films rarely end with a woman achieving something incredible of her own merit, without her having also snagged a man by the time the end credits roll.
Magazines and our obsession with celebrities also reinforce our obsession with image. We’re bombarded with what female celebrities are wearing, their weight and who they’re dating. It’s not enough to be smart, funny, ambitious and hard working. We also have to be pretty and well-dressed on top of everything else in order to be deemed acceptable by society. If you can’t take a great selfie, then you’re in trouble.
This is why eating disorders and depression amongst women is escalating. The documentary shows well-known actresses describing how directors have asked them to alter themselves in order to gain roles – ranging from losing weight, to Botox, to lip fillers, having teeth pulled back, and more.
The statistics presented in this documentary are staggering. 70% of women on screen are in their 20s and 30s, despite those in the 40+ age range making up an entire 47% of the population. A measly 7% of directors and 10% of writers in film are women. There’s the assumption that men will not watch stories about women, but women will watch stories about men. Um, I’d actually happily not watch any more sexist superhero movies thank you very much.
We all grow up with role models and people we aspire to be like when we’re older. These days they come from social media and the internet along with TV, magazines and film. But even women in “serious” roles, such as politicians, news reporters and company CEO’s have their looks reported on far more than men do. Not only that, but the boring refrain of “how do you juggle this fabulous career with being a mum?” is replayed over and over again. UGH. It’s 2016 people!
There was so much more from this film that I could wax on about, but to try and stop this becoming an angry rant I’ll give you some of my more positive thoughts after watching it:
- Women are becoming so much more aware of how they are manipulated by the media all the time. Magazines have often been Twitter-shamed for their ridiculous headlines – one of my favourites was the “Vanessa Feltz’s friends fear she is eating custard again” that was on the front page of a weekly magazine last year. I mean, how can anyone take that BS seriously. Kudos to Vanessa for downing custard in retort.
- The internet has meant that yes, we are exposed to celebrity culture more, however we are also exposed to inspirational people who are much more relatable. I’m thinking about bloggers, writers, uplifting viral stories, and even our friends and family whose online presence allows us to accept each other for who we are and celebrate each others’ successes.
- It’s easier to access content that better represents your beliefs and values. I can ignore the “Sidebar of Shame”-esque articles that stack up on the gossip websites, because I’ve chosen to unfollow them and instead bookmark websites that genuinely inspire me and give me more to think about than the latest Kardashian’s personal training schedule.
Will the media ever become less image-obsessed? Maybe, maybe not. But I feel like it’s our responsibility to wake up to how warped it can be, and hopefully show the next generation of teen girls that they don’t need to have the ‘perfect body’ to be happy or successful.