From magazine advertisements, female roles in movies and jobs in the industry, the role of women in media has always been a controversial topic. On November 25th, Ryerson University held a screening of the thought provoking documentary, Miss Representation, a film examining the way women are represented in the media.
After studying media and trying to start a career in television, I was not surprised by the under representation and stereotyping of women in the media industry. While watching Miss Representation, you cannot help but stew with anger and maybe that was director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s, intention. Newsom bookends the documentary with her own personal story, detailing her own self-consciousness growing up and the birth of her daughter, which she tell us is the reason for her making this film. Newsom, who was also an actress, does not want her daughter to grow up with the same pressures she had as a young woman. She is justified to fear for her daughter’s future. Women hold a scarce amount of control in the media industry today and cover models are increasingly becoming airbrushed. There is a deluge of information presented in Miss Representation. The bulk of the documentary mixes interviews with women in the industry with a massive amount of startling statistics. There are so many facets to this issue that at times it seems like Newsom is trying to cover them all, and at times, it sounds like an educational infomercial. Though the aesthetic quality of the documentary is lacking in some respects, Miss Representation makes a strong statement.
The sexual objectification of women onscreen leads to trivialization of women in American culture and politics. In the credit sequence, clips of asexualized females from contemporary media such as Paris Hilton and Heidi Montag are juxtaposed with iconic women in history such as Rosa Parks and Sandra Day O’Connor. Katie Couric is also featured prominently throughout the film and speaks on how rather than focusing on her abilities as a journalist, media outlets would focus on her showing emotion and her personal life, perpetuating the stereotype of a weak, lacking woman. Couric’s male counterparts, on the other hand, were taken ‘seriously’. Margaret Cho also talks about being pressured by her network to lose weight for her sitcom. Ironically, the network cancelled her show and replaced it with Drew Carey.
Celebrity culture and the beauty myth have infiltrated every aspect of our modern day existence. Miss Representation offers to educate the viewer on the media, so that we are able to scrutinize advertisements and isolate the stereotypes we see on screen. Couric says, “The media can either be an instrument of change or reflect the status quo.” Judging from the audible reactions of the overflowing audience at Ryerson, Miss Representation hit its mark and then some.