When Jennifer Siebel Newsom realised that she was pregnant with a baby girl it triggered a crisis of conscience, specifically relating to how she could bring up a psychologically healthy and emotionally well adjusted girl in today’s world. This proved to be the starting point for Newsom’s documentary Miss Representation which explores the American media’s portrayal of women.
Broadcasters Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow, comedian Margaret Cho, feminist writer Gloria Steinem, politician Condoleezza Rice, actresses Jane Fonda and Geena Davis (who is doing amazing work on Gender in Media with the Geena Davis Institute) and journalist Lisa Ling are just some of the women who have taken part in the documentary. Their interviews tell the story which is interspersed with relevant statistics that are often terrifying, such as the fact that American women spend more on beauty products, diet aids and salon services than they do on their own education.
Although the documentary is focussed on the American media it is still very relevant to women in other countries, especially because American media and cultural attitudes are so pervasive around the world. We watch American television shows, we follow American news media and American celebrities are known throughout the world.
The montage of footage in Miss Representation showing how the media criticise and degrade women in positions of political power is thoroughly horrifying. American women have a very long way to go before they will considered equal to men and even though I think in Europe things are marginally better, the fight for equality is ongoing here too.
As long as women continue to battle for male attention on reality TV shows, as long as TV producers commission shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, as long as women partake in programmes like “Girls Gone Wild”, as long as women in the public eye are pressured to be thin and have plastic surgery, then we will never be equal. This is a documentary that needs to be seen by every teenage girl so that they can understand how they are being manipulated and how they are valuable for a whole lot more than just the way they look. (And if you’re looking for a similar take on the advertising industry make sure you watch this hour long talk by Jean Kilbourne – thought provoking stuff.)