|Posted by Jennifer L Pozner|
October 20th, 2011
DVR Alert: Tune in to the award-winning documentary “Miss Representation” TONIGHT, Oct. 20, 9pm(8c) on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network).
I had the honor of being an adviser on — and being interviewed in — this powerful film about women and the media. “Miss Representation” is the first mainstream film to delve into sexism in commercial media — from advertising and pop culture’s sexualization of girls, to triggering eating disorders, to media normalizing violence against women, to reality TV as anti-feminist backlash (which I discuss both in the film and in my book, Reality Bites Back), to double standards in news reporting on female politicians, to the trivialization of women who work in broadcast news, to the causal role advertising and media consolidation plays in all of this, to the need for media literacy to help youth and adults become more active, critical media consumers.
OWN will decide whether to re-air “Miss Representation” based in large part on the ratings it draws tonight. So please tune in… and ask five friends to set their DVRs as well. Tweet it, Facebook it, email people. (If for no other reason than the cognitive dissonance that results from seeing me and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agree on something!)
The documentary highlights issues that have been at the heart of my life’s work since I was seventeen years old, and which prompted me to found Women In Media & News in 2001 as the first-ever national women’s media analysis, education and advocacy group. And while nothing in the film is new to long-term readers of WIMN’s Voices, where we discuss these issues every day, it explores very new information for a mainstream, corporate media audience. And there is transformative potential when movements are introduced to the mainstream.
The pre-debut coverage of the film in corporate news outlets is already bringing core feminist media literacy discussions to the public debate. Today, Newsweek’s Jessica Bennett posted a Daily Beast interview with filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom with this damning headline: “Why Does the Media Hate Women?” I spoke with Bennett for the piece:
“When girls look to the media for models they can achieve in the real world, they see newspapers and TV anchors talking about female politicians’ haircuts and fashion choices,” says Jennifer L. Pozner, the founder of Women in Media and News and the author of Reality Bites Back. “And then they turn to reality TV, where they’re told that the only route to power is through beauty and humiliation. So what are girls to think about what’s possible for them?”
The format of the film — and its Oprah Winfrey stamp of approval as an official OWN “Documentary Club” pick — has the potential to raise significant awareness among audiences who have never heard the term “media justice,” who have not had the opportunity for media literacy education, and who do not devote much if any thought to women’s rights concerns. The format of the film is compelling. Montages of damning images from advertising, journalism, TV, movies, music videos, video games, and billboards are juxtaposed with interviews with famous media personalities (Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Geena Davis, Rosario Dawson and Margaret Cho, among others), powerful politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, Cory Booker, Gavin Newsom and more), iconic activists (Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Jane Fonda and others), alongside those of us who have been working in the trenches to combat sexism and racism in the media, including media analysts, scholars and activists such as Jean Kilbourne, Malkia Cyril, Carol Jenkins, Barbara Berg, Martha Lauzen, M. Gigi Durham, Jackson Katz and others. Perhaps most powerfully, interspersed among these celebrity and scholarly interviews is dramatic testimony from teen girls and boys about the negative impact misogynistic media imagery has on their self-images, their expectations, and their lives.
“Miss Representation” does an excellent job of including perspectives from a range of sources diverse in ethnicity, age, gender, and field of expertise. What is left unexplored (including: how racism intersects with sexism in the media to make representations of women of color particularly problematic; the existence of– and need to support– independent, feminist media; and, structural solutions to regulate and improve the media industry) will be important areas to address in future efforts from the filmmakers, who are already thinking about producing not one but two sequels. And, of course, for those of us who do write, blog, speak, and agitate for healthier, more diverse, more just media content and policy, “Miss Representation” gives us another entry point through which to start important conversations not only about gender and the media but also how media deal with race, class, sexuality, physical ability, and citizenship or immigration status.
As I told Marianne Schnall in this Feminist.com Q&A with filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom and “Miss Representation” interviewees Barbara J. Berg, M. Gigi Durham, Caroline Heldman, Jean Kilbourne, Jennifer Lawless, Nancy Pelosi, Jennifer L. Pozner and Marie Wilson:
Viewers of “Miss Representation” have reported being shocked, enraged, enlightened and inspired. My hope is that we can mobilize that energy from awareness into action. Because while the biases exposed in the documentary are certainly enraging, they are not shocking to those of us who have been working for decades to combat sexism and racism in news and entertainment media, to and create more a diverse, critical, positive media landscape. As such, “Miss Representation” presents an extraordinary opportunity to bring the work of the feminist media activist movement into the mainstream. When viewers of “Miss Representation” leave the theater or turn off OWN, they shouldn’t simply get angry–they should get active. From Women In Media & News, which I founded in 2001, to the national Media Action Grassroots Network coalition, there is a vibrant movement in America that needs their energy, support and involvement to hold corporate media accountable for damaging and inaccurate content, to improve representations of women, people of color and other marginalized communities, and to advocate fairer, more just policies regulating the media industry. There is also a strong independent media community where “Miss Representation” viewers can hear the voices and perspectives of women and people of color misrepresented, marginalized or just plain missing in the corporate media, including Ms., ColorLines, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Women’s Enews, Feminist.com, World Pulse, GRITtv, WINGS, and many others.
The last thing I say in “Miss Representation” is that “we need media literacy as much as we need to learn to read.” I want viewers to know that there amazing feminist, anti-racist media literacy resources out there, from the Media Literacy Project’s educational curricula and online toolkits, to Reel Grrls program to teach girls how to make their own media, to the media literacy lectures and workshops I conduct through Women In Media & News. Once “Miss Representation” sparks viewers’ interest and outrage, they have many ways to learn– and do — more.