Misrepresentation. This word is the new toss up to describe women in modern culture and it could not be more accurate. The recent documentary Miss Representation, which can be streamed on Netflix, explores the disconnect between women and the roles we play in media. The film’s description is stated as an investigation of how “mainstream media’s often disparaging portrayals of women contribute to the under-representation of females in positions of leadership.” What does this mean? It means as we peel back the layers of our modern American culture, there is still a sufficient lack of women in leadership positions.
“Disparaging Portrayals.” Sex. Domestication. Objectification. Dehumanization. These are all ways women have been degraded through the media. Advertisements display women as objects of men’s sexual desires, tools used for pleasure. A growing number of female roles on television and cinema portray women as rather unsophisticated and dependent characters, who lack the complexity of the male figures. Young children, who are impressionable, grow up viewing these images and portrayals of women. These portrayals will shape a young girl to believe what her true worth in society is. And of course, in contemporary society a female is more valued by her appearance than her wit and intelligence, leading young girls to believe that is all that matters.
So can we really be surprised at the underrepresentation of women? Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate in 2008, was constantly put down for her gender. Often commentary on her campaign would focus more on the fact that she was a woman than on the causes she was representing. Comments such as, “she’s well-spoken for a woman” undermined her actual arguments. Women already in leadership roles bare the huge burden of the media’s constant concentration on their appearance. Even the way we describe women in leadership roles is discouraging. A woman who is passionate and determined is often called “pushy” or “bossy” whereas a male of the same characterization is often called “ambitious” or “persuasive”.
The film is an amazing exploration of these issues and their effects on young girls, but no film will change our current circumstances. As there continues to be light shed on the issue of women’s rights, exposing the existing equality gap, there should be more of an uproar from the women in our society. We need to ensure that as young females, we are empowering each other and demanding a change. If we stand together, anything is possible.