Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 16, 2012

On Miss Representation

I went into Miss Representation having heard it was good, but not really expecting to learn anything I didn’t already know. It’s pretty standard knowledge that there are serious issues with how women are portrayed in the media. What really impressed me about the movie though, is how persuasively it managed to package and support its message in a way that made me think about an issue already familiar to me in terms I hadn’t considered it in previously.

One of the points made that particularly struck me was how the vast majority of women

Awesome Exception #1*

portrayed on television, on the news as well as in more entertainment oriented tv shows, fall into a very limited age range: teens to mid-30’s. You might suggest that this is true to some extent of men too, television is a visual medium that values the young and beautiful disproportionately, but the degree of difference is considerable.

I don’t have cable, so my glimpses of tv news are generally confined to the clips that show up on The Daily Show, but Miss Representation brings enough examples of the male and female anchors that regularly show up to

Awesome Exception #2*

make a clear case. The sheer number of images the movie offers of older men paired with young, conventionally attractive women, sometimes showing cleavage or in short skirts, portrays a disturbing trend. The men are there to lend respectability to the proceedings; the women are there to be ogled.

Combined with the lack of stories involving older women in the entertainment sector of television, it sends a strong message: we only care about seeing women in this society for as long as they are in their pique years of sexual attractiveness.

Another especially bothersome sector of our entertainment industry: kids’ movies. The seemingly wholesome, non-controversial movies we show to the youngest, most impressionable members or our society portray women almost exclusively as unrealistically shaped (creepily tiny waists, large breasts) and scantily clad. Think of the outfits of Ariel and Jasmine, or the must-have-an-eating-disorder figure of Rapunzel in Tangled. Of course we see ourselves in those characters as kids and hope to grow up to be beautiful like them–not fully grasping yet that their kind of beautiful is a total fiction (or when it’s not, is a symptom of a sickness).

And then there’s how we talk about women in power. Much has been said on this subject already, but no matter how much some people try to analyze or call out the worst instances of sexism in the media conversations surrounding women politicians–the problem is rampant. The clothes they wear, how good they look on any given day, speculation about plastic surgery, the inevitable categorization of all women politicians into either the ball busting/castrating category (see: Hillary Clinton), or the someone men would like to have sex with category (see: Sarah Palin), these discussions are the norm rather than the exception. Either way, their value is determined by how they fit into a man’s idea of their sexuality–and women in the audience and media accept and participate in it at least as often as they question it.

Women make up half the population and the half made up by men is, contrary to what these trends would have us believe, not made up entirely of those that only see women in terms of their value as sex objects. There’s no reason that the media reflection of our society should be so out of touch with the reality of the society itself.

*In picking images of this article, I almost went with a picture of a hot news anchor (Google “news anchor” and that’s a large percentage of your results), but then changed my mind and decided to highlight to awesomeness of two exceptions to the rule: Margo Martindale (pictured in her role in Justified, but also outstanding in the clip included here), and Melissa Leo, reliably fantastic, especially in Treme).

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