“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. – Alice Walker
A few months ago I watched a brilliant documentary called “Miss Representation“. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the award-winning film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. I have been meaning to write about the documentary for months yet had left it in the back burner until the Olympics began and some of the media coverage of the women althetes outraged me.
Two recent articles in particular (“Medals aren’t enough: Women athletes still have to sell sexiness” and “Scantily Clad Russian Olympians Are Making Us Uncomfortable“) made my anger flair and made me realize that as a society if women’s rights are ever going to improve, me must stop looking at them as sex objects. Certainly one can argue that it is in our biology and nature. Men will always covet and admire women and their bodies. Yet what I want to argue is that it is fine to admire a woman’s beauty but our powerful media does not need to continue to objectify women. It has come to the point where it is so commonplace that one often turns a blind eye to it. Let’s face it sex sells.
But when it comes to women of power like politicians, athletes, business leaders and other admirable women, why on earth does appearance always have to matter? Why does the media have to knock women of power down if they seem “too aggressive” (Hillary Clinton), “had face work down” (Nancy Pelosi), is “too bossy” (Sheryl Sandberg) or is too fat, too thin or wearing the wrong clothes? Why are women commonly viewed as a piece of meat? And how can we raise our young daughters and sons to view a woman as a person, not just an object?
As a society why do we continue to accept this?
When my severn-year old daughter was in the room while I’m was on the internet and looking at the home page of Yahoo, what did I tell her when she asked why these women are all in their underwear? They aren’t Victoria Secret models. They are professional athletes.
Of course these athletes have gorgeous bodies that they have worked hard at achieving but you begin to wonder if their bodies and looks are more important than their amazing sportsmanship and athletism. TIME magazine’s sport section recently published an article titled “Medals aren’t enough: Women athletes still have to sell sexiness” which discusses the importance of a female Olympian’s sexiness and appearance in being successful.
The article argues that “despite the progress women’s athletics have made since Title IX in 1972, the law that required girls and women’s sports to get equal public funding, female athletes are still asked to walk the narrow line between empowered and sexy in order to earn endorsements”. Quite frankly, sex sells and oftentimes women athletes are judged more by how they look and how sexy they are than by their unbelievable skill. This is a tragedy.
These efforts can earn sponsorships—though not nearly as many as the men get. Even though most female athletes make the bulk of their money from endorsements, Sports Illustrated’s 2013 list of the 50 highest earning athletes didn’t include a single woman. -TIME Magazine
“I feel like the media and society in general—because it’s easy—put female athletes into two boxes,” Ashley Wagner says. “You’re either a very pretty athlete or you go to the opposite end of the spectrum and you’re very sexy.”
Why not have more media coverage like this below of Sarah Hendrickson that empowers women instead of objectifies them?
Visa celebrates Sarah Hendrickson and the Olympic debut of Women’s Ski Jumping with the words of a great woman who loved to fly.
So why does this all matter? Think about the impact these portrayals of women are having on boys and girls around the world. I look back at my childhood and teenage years and never ever was satisfied with how I looked. I always thought I was fat (I wasn’t), not pretty enough or good enough. This was well before the day of the Internet and the constant images that young girls and boys see. So my questions is: “how much progress have women truly made”?
The documentary Miss Representation, which I highly recommend watching, states some horrifying facts that are often ignored by society. Take a peak at the trailer below.
Here is just a sampling of some of the statistics used in the documentary. Click here to see them in full. Reading over these figures it is clearly obvious the negative impact sexification and objectification of women are having on our children. The media plays an extremely powerful role and it is only going to get worse. I find is frightening.
There are a huge amount of stats given in the documentary as well as on “The Representation Project’s Website”. Here are the ones that struck me as extremely powerful and important to note.
The Power of Media
American teenagers spend:
- 31 hours a week watching T.V.
- 17 hours a week listening to music
- 3 hours a week watching movies
- 4 minutes a week reading magazines
- 10 hours a week online
It’s estimated that there is somewhere north of 1 billion people who use the Internet every single day
The Portrayal of Women and Girls in Media:
The American Psychological Association estimates that teens are exposed to 14,000 sexual references & innuendos per year on TV – Only 20% of news articles are about women
U.S advertisers spent billion in 2009. 80% of the countries in the world have GDP’s less than that.
Women in Power:
71 countries in the world have had female presidents or prime ministers, the US is not one of them.
35 women have served as US governors compared to 2,319 men. –
Men occupy 80 to 95-plus percent of the top decision-making positions in American politics, business, the military, religion, media, culture, and entertainment –
The devastating impact on women and girls:
53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17.
1 in 6 women are survivors of rape or attempted rape
Here are some interesting infographics I found on The Representation Project’s website:
So what do you think? Do you think we’ve made progress on women’s rights? What can be done to help raise healthy boys and girls? I wish the answer was easy.
Resources for further reading:
Miss Representation – film and website