Thirdeyemom

“Miss Representation”: How Women are Truly Viewed in Society and Why it Damns us

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any”. – Alice Walker

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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? 

Yes she is gorgeous but come on! Is this kind of clothing how we should depict a professional athlete?  Source: Yahoo, Photo of Alexander Saitova, curling (Photo: adme.ru)

Yes she is gorgeous but come on! Is this kind of clothing how we should depict a professional athlete?  Source: Yahoo, Photo of Alexander Saitova, curling (Photo: adme.ru)

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.

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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.”

Screen Shot taken from TIME Magazine article of cover of Olympian Gretchn

Screen Shot taken from TIME Magazine article of cover of Olympian Gretchen Bleiler.

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.

Source: The Representation Project

Source: The Representation Project

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:

repinfo2 media-lit

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

The Representation Project

24 comments

  1. Media is powerful, and I think that as parents, and grandparents, we have to step in and do a lot of teaching and talking to our children/grandchildren about this; if not, it is media alone that our children learn from.

    • Yes it is so powerful it is frightening Angeline. The songs and lyrics, the images that children see each and every day, many depicting women in not very positive ways. So much teaching to do for both my son and daughter.

  2. andreaamyjackson

    Thanks for posting this! It is a really important topic that is often ignored/accepted. Like Angeline said, I think it’s important to talk to kids about what they are seeing in the media and how the media doesn’t necessarily reflect our reality. I also think it’s really important to seek out more positive representations of powerful women and girls, whether that is in books, blog posts, documentaries, or women and girls in your community.
    And, since we do spend so much time on the internet, there are a lot of alternative media sources that we have access to now that we haven’t had in the past. Some of these are very focused on representing viewpoints not normally seen in mainstream media.

    • Thanks for your comment! Thankfully there is a lot of other information and movements out there now especially for girls to learn to raise their voices and stand up for their rights. I read a ton on women’s rights so hope to continue to educate my children but sadly I know there will always be those kids out there who are not so I also will have to teach my daughter how to protect herself too when she grows older. I think of all the girls I know who were date raped and it frightens me.

      • andreaamyjackson

        I think it’s important to know how to protect ourselves but I also think its important to teach boys and young men about respect, consent, equality so that it is less of an issue. I think as a society it is really east for us to say “we need to teach girls this….” Or “if only she hadn’t been drinking or wearing that skirt or done whatever…” But ultimately it is a rapists choice to rape (and very often they don’t even realize something qualifies as rape) and so we need to, as a society, work on putting the blame on rapists and not on survivors. But it is definitely a long process and everyone should know how to avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations.

      • Yes indeed true! I have both a son and daughter and intend to teach them wisely. A very close friend was date raped in college and it ruined her college years. It was terrible. I look back now and realize how lucky I was to have escaped dangerous situations. Thanks for the comment.

  3. What a great blog post. I think we have certainly come along way in terms of women’s rights over the past few decades, but there is still a way to go, particularly in relation to the medias perception of women. The media has a large role to play in this and time and time again lets women down by reinforcing the perception that attractiveness is what dictates a woman’s success in life. Sometimes the sexist portrayal of women is obvious, sometimes it’s more subtle … but how are we meant to create a truly equal society when women are treated than little more than ‘sex symbols’ … we need to be taken seriously for our skills, knowledge and ambition. The Russian Olympian photos are no more than belittling! Big sigh! 🙁

  4. We fought for women’s rights and gained a lot but the current generation seems complacent. Our rights are even slipping. We came a long way but we still don’t have equal rights. Yes we are much better off here than in most countries but I work just as hard as a man. Why should I be paid less especially since I am the sole provider of my family. I think the media is a reflection of society. They spit out what people want to see and are willing to pay for. Society has to change before the media will. Educating our children is one thing but a lot mire is needed.

    • Excellent comment. I sometimes feel like many other of my female friends don’t seem as bothered by this all and I’m just a feminist. But I find it outrageous! Glad there are other women out there who also feel as I do. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Pingback: An afternoon visiting Southeastern Arizona’s vineyards | Thirdeyemom

  6. Awesome post. Super informative, and so true. I absolutely loved the Sarah Hendrickson VISA commercial. It was such a new approach to how female athletes are portrayed!

    • Thanks! I appreciate the comment and yes the VISA ad is so incredibly refreshing isn’t it?! I’ve got a lot of work to do with my son and daughter to teach them some good values!

  7. Don’t forget about http://www.seejane.org, the official website for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. I recently watched this documentary as well and googled a bunch of the women who were interviewed straight afterwards, and came across that gem.

    You can sign up for a weekly newsletter called SmartBriefs, buy beautiful jewelry from the shop to support great causes, and contact them with any questions for more information as to how to get involved.

    I thought it was amazing, and that I should spread the word 🙂

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