Miss Representation is a mostly well-done documentary about the portrayal of women in the media. It looks at a whole host of issues, from the roles available the female actresses, to the lack of women in high political office to the dearth of women on the boards of media conglomerates. There are interviews with some extremely high-powered and visible women (such as Condoleezza Rice and Geena Davis) interspersed with profiles of high school-aged women discussing how the ways women are portrayed in the media have impacted them directly.
Before I jump into what I liked, I wanted to take a minute up front to say what I didn’t like. The filmmaker employs a narrative device that was a little cheesy for my tastes. The whole premise is that she’s pregnant and going to have a girl, and she’s wondering about the world this daughter will grow up in. That part I totally get, but the way it’s done is not … great. It feels a little like an SNL parody. Additionally, there isn’t enough intersectionality for my tastes. Secretary Rice does bring up representations of women of color, but the film could have been SO much stronger if it spent some time really focusing on how the ways women of color are marginalized often differ from the ways white women are marginalized.
Beyond that, nearly every part of the documentary spoke to me in some way. From the depressing reminder of how both Palin and Clinton were treated in the 2008 election (that clip from SNL with both Fey and Poehler at the podium still makes me laugh and then want to cry), to the lack of support for female screenwriters and directors who clearly could have a different perspective, to the photo-shopping of women’s bodies to lead us all to believe that a size 2-4 (can’t be TOO skinny, amirite?) with DDD breasts, clear skin and long flowing hair is not only attainable by all women, but should be their goal, it’s all so familiar and really depressing. I think about how much of my own internal monologue (I’m healthy, it’s fine, so I gained ten pounds, ugh I’m fat, no but that’s society and I’m awesome as I am, but still why can’t I look like HER) has been shaped over the years, and how it’s really a daily struggle to fight back against what I’ve been exposed to my whole life.
To pull out one component to share as an example, there is fantastic (albeit fairly short) segment focused on the B.S. idea that men are the default, and anything featuring women is a specialty bit of media. A film with a male lead is meant to be for everyone, but a film with a female lead? That’s for women only, because how could men expect to be interested? It doesn’t help that those female leads are so often searching for a man to complete them, whereas so many of the male-led films are about the man’s quest to find himself or to solve some problem. The example they used was Star Trek (the first in the latest reboot) – it’s not about Kirk finding love, it’s about finding his destiny. Can we have more of that for women?
All of this makes me think about my friends who are having kids and how I can actively promote positive views of women that fall outside the mass media norm. Not talking negatively about people who look different from me is a no-brainer, but even being vocal about non-conventional choices I’ve made to show that there are all sorts of ways to create a happy life is a way to live my feminism and ensure that it isn’t just something I think about. We’re not having kids, and that’s not something to hide; it’s something to share to point out that there are a lot of different ways to have a family. The fact that we now have a blended last name is also very important to me; it shows that the decision of how to create the new family can be an active choice, and one that represents my values. But what else can I do to be supportive of these kids in a way that shows women have value for reasons beyond how they look in a swimsuit?
Some of this, I think, requires us to make more conscious choices about the media we consume. Sure, it’s easy to just go to the blockbuster because it’s out and everyone wants to go – but what if we DON’T go if there aren’t women represented in them with a story line that isn’t focused on their attempt to find a man? The Heat wasn’t the best film I’ve seen in years, but I was thrilled to give it my money because the focus was not on a romantic interest, but on women and their relationships with each other and their work. I don’t think every decision about the media we consume needs to be a political act, but I wonder how much more representative it would be if more of our decisions WERE political acts?
Anyway, those are my thoughts. Below is the trailer – see for yourself. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.