A Silent Majority

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the much buzzed about documentary Miss Representation.  It was a kind of geeky girl’s night out. The film addresses the portrayal of women in mainstream media and its resulting effect on their... our... presence in positions of power and influence in America.

As a woman with deeply ingrained feminist roots that have continued to evolve and develop, I found this film incredibly intriguing.  It is one I would heartily recommend, even if you think "feminism" is a dirty word. (In fact, you should ESPECIALLY see it if you think "feminism" is a dirty word.) The film's writer/director/producer Jennifer Siebel Newson raises questions concerning the media saturated and often toxic culture in which she is raising her young daughter. In pursuit of answers - that result in, often, even more questions - she conducts a series of in depth interviews with women (and men) in the entertainment industry, in positions of media influence, and in high profile positions of political power.

The film was an 85 minute information upload. In addition to the onslaught of often disturbing imagery and soundbites, the audience is pummeled with statistics that occasionally made this viewer's eyes well up with tears.  For instance, in a country where women make up 51% of the population, it is heartbreaking that the boards of the six major media conglomerates (Disney, Time Warner, NewsCorp, Viacom, CBS and General Electric) consist of roughly 15% (And I'm being wildly GENEROUS with that number) women.  This simple fact alone, raises troubling questions concerning the presence, much less the accuracy, of the female viewpoint in our nation's media. Seeing this simple truth in black and white broke my heart. And that reaction, for me, was partly what made Miss Representation so compelling. The stereotypical "angry" feminist voice that is too frequently loudly provoking and rife with finger pointing was replaced with a rational, intellectually persuasive and well reasoned perspective. Countless examples of the absence of, and the trivialization of the female voice was shown to be the American media's norm.  How can that be good for ANYONE in our country, male or female? If the majority of a population is rendered practically silent, we all suffer.

The documentary has spawned several conversations already and lots and lots of contemplation. As a woman who's brand of feminism, as I mentioned before, continues to evolve and mature I can't help but be influenced by the startling truth represented in this film. Sure, there were some issues that I took with Miss Representation. For instance, I don't believe that women have cornered the market on abuse from the American media. Women aren't the only ones being misrepresented. If you isolate the film industry alone, (which I'm going to do, because this is MY blog) it can be incredibly disrespectful and unfair to men also. They are often painted as immature oafs sitting on the couch with their hands in their pants. Too often male leads are silly man-boys incapable of any worthwhile accomplishment. They ogle women and toys, they fart and waste space seeming to communicate that men are stupid and juvenile.  But, what struck me is that there are so many beautiful, edifying, inspiring male stories told to counteract those disrespectful mesages.  But unfortunately, so many of the female stories being told are simply "find me a husband" tales. Aren't we as a gender more than that? (the answer is, "yes.") But this ultra prevalent, one dimensional portrayal of women in film is just one result of the lack of the feminine perspective in positions of power in the American mainstream media.

The film gave me lots and lots to think about. And when faced with an issue as pervasive as this, it would be easy to become overwhelmed, hopeless and ultimately apathetic.  But instead, I chose to find one thing I could do to start "being the change." As a consumer, my most powerful voice is where and how I spend my money. Therefore, my personal take away from Miss Representation was this, "Seek out films telling multi-dimensional stories about women and PAY MONEY to movie theatres to watch these films. (especially on opening weekend - Friday is best)."  It isn't going to solve the media crisis in our country, but it is a little something that I can do to make my voice heard.

Have you had a chance to see Miss Representation? Would you?