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Event Tue Sep 13 2011
It would be easy to blow off Miss Representation as just another panties-in-a-bunch feminist documentary; and I imagine a good majority of the penis-clad population might do just that and not read past the word feminist. But at the risk of sounding like a naggy bitch, please don't. Miss Representation is not just another "Annie get you guns" feminist mantra meant only to enrage the vags and turn us all into lesbians. Miss Representation is the story about our society; it is a story about the increasingly bruised and bloody relationships between the media and the women; and the lesson of this story is how shitty media hurts vags and penises alike. So if you have a vagina or just love vaginas in all their equal glory, this documentary is your story as well.
Through simple facts, complex personal stories and embarrassingly real media clips, Miss Representation shows how the media is permanently damaging the self esteem and future of hundreds girls in direct and indirect, obvious and subtle, disturbing and accepted ways. But beyond telling the story, the movie tell viewers to stop whining about the insanity of man-made media, stop accepting Barbie (or Bratz dolls for the newer generations) as inevitable and make a change, particularly through their own traitorous wallets.
In hopes of inspiring the women of Chicago to act, the YWCA put together a screening of the new documentary. The first screening sold out in weeks, so the YWCA put together another screening, which sold out as well. The packed house at last Thursday's showing included Joycelyn Winneke from the Tribune, Shia Kapos from Crain's as well as an entire Girl Scout troop. They were all there to see the show but also to make a change.
"When women see certain images on screen, they get a visceral reaction; they think 'this is not right,'" says YWCA CEO, Christine Bork. "But the conversation stops there. By showing this movie we hope to rally together and do something."
When writer, director, and former Mad Men actress, Jennifer Siebel Newsom , gave birth to her daughter she had an epiphany. She realized the world she lived in, and a world as an actress she helped create, was not the world she wanted her daughter to grow up in. So she created a documentary that threads together the stories of some of today's most powerful women in hopes of changing the future. From actresses such as Jane Fonda and Rosario Dawson to powerhouse leaders like Condi Rice and Nancy Pelosi, each woman has a story of sexism and a message of a potential change.
For years, the media has said it is simply a reflection of society; it mimics culture. The Jersey Shore has always existed in all of its tanned glory; MTV was just reflecting that shiny Ed Hardy light. Miss Representation calls that b.s. The documentary shifts the prevalent paradigm and suggests the media creates culture, creates society and reinforces negative stereotypes and prototypes because of comfort, ease or pure consumerism. From reality shows like the Real World to dramas like Gossip Girl, the character's hair color may change but the narrative stays pathetically the same and stereotypes continue because of the media.
Women in the media are pigeon holed into narrow-one-dimensional roles: the up-type, overworked, under-sexed bitch (see Knocked Up), the fighting fuck toy (see Tomb Raider), the under-appreciated, saintly mother (see any sitcom with a fat husband and size 2 wife) or the love-struck princesses (see every rom com from the Little Mermaid to Something Borrowed). These types of roles don't replicate real multi-dimensional women and for the most part they only portray women as they relate to their chubby male counter parts.
The over-simplification lands us directly in objectification territory. Women are sex holes, care-takers or uppity leaders that need to be taken down a notch. The one-dimensionality of characters not only externally devalues women in society but also leads to women internalizing their limited roles, realizing their worth as it relates to sex and men.
And in the end, women pay for their own de-worth and fueling the cycle when they buy movie tickets, watch patronizing opinion politics or flip through tabloids. But do women really want to watch yet another blockbuster with Katherine Heigl where she gets the guy in the last 3 minutes of the movie and then has blissful half-opened mouth pretend movie make out session for the rest of her life? That is a rhetorical question but in case you were wondering, no I think the majority of women would like something a little more relatable and possibly complex, that didn't narrate the same princess story over and over again.
Beyond being a rally-cry for women, Miss Representation is beautifully humanistic; it tells the media story not just as a woman's story but as a men's story as well. When women are created in the media to merely be things and men are taught they must own and protect these things, nobody wins, nobody is whole and nobody gets to live a life of more than one dimension. As women are boiled down to more and more simplistic roles, men are also in danger of becoming steroid-fueled caricatures themselves. What? You don't have a six-pack, a charming disposition and a six-figure income? Well sorry but I just watched "Crazy Stupid Love" and clearly that is the type of man I'll be waiting for.
The point is we all lose, some of us in shorter skirts and some of us with ridiculous hair plugs.
In the end though, it might come down to the women folk who are 86% of the buying power in the United States to change the world media has created for us. With 86% of the power we can smash glass ceilings, get a female president elected and have a few well-rounded female protagonists with real boobs on screen.
It really is simple: You know you are more than sex, you are more than a mother, you are more than one-dimension, so stop buying stories that suggest you are. Go on opening day to women-directed movies, buy women-owned products, write a letter to your newspaper or media the next time they judge a female leader based on her pant suit.
And more tell your own story. A panelist from the discussion after the movie, McGhee Williams Osse from Burrell Communications Group, urged people to use their social media. Next time Fox News gives the head line story to models or Paris Hilton, let your rage be know! Tweet it, FB it, blog it!
We've had a media without women's voices for years and time has proven that to be a dull monotonous cycle. But that can change.
"It's true. It is a man's world," says Elizabeth Mansfield, Communications Officer at the YWCA and organizer of the screening. "This is up to us. We are the one's with the consumer power. We are the ones who can change this."
Screenings from the YWCA in Chicago may be sold out but you can catch Miss Representation on Oct 20 on the Oprah Network. Or take action now and arrange your own screening . You can also tune in =to further conversation (and perhaps some criticism) at the Tribune's blog Trib Nation after the Sept 22 YWCA screening .