Miss Representation

Liv Murphy, Writer and Researcher for Addictive Daughter headed down to the Women of the World Festival on the Southbank to watch Miss Representation – a film written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. 87 minutes long, it uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see, and exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.

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03/03/2014. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank. It’s 6.59pm and I can’t sit still.

Neither can any of the other nine hundred spectators for that matter.

I’m at the screening of Miss Representation; a powerful film created to challenge the under-representation of women in power and the misrepresentation of women in the media.

I glance around the auditorium. Women of all ages have come together to celebrate the Women of the World Festival 2014. The energy is enlivening.

The lights dim and out walks Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Filmmaker, advocate and most importantly mother, her passion, her motives, and her activism ascertain that she is a Californian girl not of the Katy Perry kind.

Fuelled by a strong desire to bring her daughter into a world different from the one that encouraged her own self-destructive behaviour, Newsom explains how she progressed from one birth to another: the conception of Miss Representation. In a world where our own sight is inescapably filtered through the media lens, Newsom defends why it is time to turn the lens on media itself to magnify the crisis of reality. In order to inspire change, her film seeks to expose how the sexual objectification of women onscreen leads to an overall belittlement of our gender.

The film is narrated by Newsom herself, which opens with a shocking truth: the average American teenager is exposed to nearly eleven hours of media consumption per day. This leads straight into a montage sequence of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Barbie and Disney Princesses intercut with images of important women in history such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Virginia Woolf, Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and more. Sandra Day O’Connor in judges robes juxtaposed with Jessica Simpson as a dancing Daisy Duke was a personal favourite of mine, summing up Newsom’s entire thesis in just two images.

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NewestMiss Representation Trailer(2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection)

fromThe Representation Project

From start to finish I feel like I’m taken on a 90 minute emotional rollercoaster. Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Katie Couric, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem expose the manipulation of the media.

I hear the gasps of the audience, as I (and the rest of the auditorium) realise that this crisis is just as applicable to the media of the UK. Shaking my head in disbelief I reflect on how the media skews the image of women to such an extent, that even the most seemingly strong females are shaped for the consumption of men. “The hyper-sexuality that occurs in Hollywood is affecting all of us, including young girls seeking an identity,” says Jane Fonda, who reveals how she was asked to have her back teeth removed for an acting role.

The film continues to emphasise how “role models” such as Madonna and Angeline Jolie onlyseem to figure as examples of female empowerment. The truth is that such roles available to women are far from empowering. This part really resonated with me, as I reminisced a past fancy dress party. Proudly opting out of the stereotypical witch, princess or prostitute, Lara Croft was my chosen character. But, to my distress, this meant a toned midriff. And this meant a schedule of crunches before bedtime. And before school. Oh, and absolutely no birthday cake (I was fourteen).

What’s more, the film highlights the ability of the media to degrade even women of politics for their presentation of feminine power. While ‘Mrs. Clinton’ and ‘Pin-up Palin’ have been dubbed the “b-tch” and the “ditz”, my handout confirmed such a truth as Cherie Blair, one of the guest speakers of tonight’s event, is defined as ‘The wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.’

Yet, just as such a reality leaves me feeling deflated, Newsom’s tone concludes with hope of an optimistic future.  Drawing on Alice Walker who claims: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”, Newsom stresses the key slogan for her film: “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Capitalist objectives are at the heart of media, an industry that treats power as defined by the male perspective. Newsom asserts how such a perspective is not conducive with reality. For the sake of our future generations, we must change now. We must tell our own stories, to create new messages. Let’s ensure a proper and equal representation of women. The media defines us, so let’s amend this definition.

As the film comes to a close, I am left with a desire to fulfil Newsom’s vision. We must stop replicating the world we are used to. We don’t need tabloid magazines, we don’t need reality TV, and we don’t need our own sisters judging the way we choose to portray ourselves.

Let’s strive to not only re-educate our girls, but also our boys. Let’s call out sexism in the media. Let’s fuel The Representation Project, and not hyper-sexuality. Let’s spread the cause, let’s take the pledge, let’s change for good.

We’re worth it: #notbuyingit.

Reviewed by Liv MurphyWriter & Researcher for Addictive Daughter

Liv is currently an English Literature student at King’s College London on the brink of graduation and adulthood. Not only a champion of women’s issues, Liv’s addictions also include foreign travel, Japanese food, bellini bubbles and swanky London rooftop bars.