miss representation

I was delighted to hear that a new documentary, called Miss Represention, created by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, played at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been getting a great reception.

Here’s the trailer:

The issue of how women are represented in the media is one that occupies my mind on a regular basis, so I’m pleased that Newsom has put her time and effort into analysing and criticising this subject.

There are a couple of articles in the Deseret News, touching upon this film and related issues that are well worth reading.

The first is Family Films are not Friendly to Women, which reports on a public interview that took place at Sundance after the screening of Miss Representation. Attending with Newsom were actress Geena Davis; Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media; journalist, author and activist Gloria Stienem; journalist Pat Mitchell; and author Barbara Berg.

In particular Geena Davis was representing The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which she set up to investigate how the media depict men and women. They’ve been publishing a lot of useful research, and the latest report, ‘Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera in Family Films‘ makes for rather depressing reading, especially if you are a woman. It analysed a range of films aimed at children and discovered that there were approximately 2.42 male characters depicted to every 1 female.

This information didn’t surprise me because it tallies with recent research from television, as reported by The Stage last March: “Women get less than half of all roles in television drama“. Plus, the roles for women over 40 decrease dramatically: more than half of all women – 54% – are in the age band 16 – 39, compared with 36% of men.

The Davis Institute report also notices a distinct difference in how male and female characters are presented to children:

… a higher percentage of females than males (24% vs. 4%) are shown in sexy, tight, or alluring attire. Females are more likely than their male counterparts to be physically attractive (14% vs. 3.6%) and portrayed with some exposed skin between the mid chest and upper thigh regions (18.5% vs. 5.6%).

These films are doing a deft job of cementing early the idea that a good appearance is most important for girls and women.

The study also examined those who worked behind the scenes on these films, and discovered that 93% of directors, 87% writers, and 80% of producers are male. Taken together, these numbers calculate into a ratio of 4.88 males to every one female in key production occupations.

In the face of this information Newsom’s documentary, and her interview “‘Miss Representation’ director is aiming to change American culture“, are very inspiring. Newsom decided to do something about this situation, and has high hopes of bringing about a much needed cultural shift. She says:

“The media isn’t another piece of hardware,” she said. “It isn’t some toaster oven the way we thought it was in 1980s. Media communicates our culture. It has a tremendous responsibility. It dictates our culture norms. If we want to live in a better world, we have to change the media.”

On the film’s web site they recommend “10 Ways to Create Change

  1. Measure yourself by your accomplishments and not how you look
  2. Support media that champions accomplished women
  3. Boycott magazines, movies and TV shows that objectify and degrade women
  4. Go see movies that are written and directed by women
  5. Write your own stories and create your own media about powerful women in non- traditional roles
  6. Teach kids to look at the media critically
  7. Ask your school to start a media literacy class focused on gender issues
  8. Don’t be afraid to challenge your friends if you hear them saying derogatory things about women
  9. Find healthy role models and be a mentor to others
  10. Encourage women to become leaders and support them in the process

It’s a great place to start.