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Miss Representation screening empowers women to take the media back

Vancouver-based entrepreneur Sandra Wear from Planning for Exit recently hosted a screening of Miss Representation for a diverse audience including local feminists, high school teachers, businessmen and businesswomen at the Scotiabank Theatre in downtown Vancouver.

The event was a remarkable success, raising $11,000 for charities Dress for Success and Big Sisters. Over 100 people — men and women — were in attendance. Sandra Wear, Principal of Planning for Exit, explained her rationale for screening the film by asking people the following question:

 “How can we realize our potential as a community if we’re only hearing from 50 per cent of the voices? We need both voices, male and female, for policy-making, innovation, and economic growth.” 

Miss Representation also represents human rights issues

Miss Representation, an eye-opening documentary about the state of women in the United States today, seeks to rectify the very problem Wear is referring to by showcasing the 50 per cent of the voices the media tends to neglect — women’s. The documentary sheds light on the under-representation of women in positions of power and reveals the media’s influential but narrow portrayal of women. It breaks down the many stereotypes about women perpetuated by the media.

 Although the film’s main purpose is to re-empower women, its message is about men as well. For example, it highlights society’s unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of men and the dangerous repercussions that result. Many activities that are considered “manly” — such as excessive drinking, smoking, and eating — are severely detrimental to men’s health.

Unlike women, who are more likely to seek help for their problems, men are pressured to hold their problems inward and cope or risk being stigmatized as being weak.

“This is a human rights issue. This isn’t a women’s movement, it’s a movement for women, men, kids, and parents,” Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom states.  Ultimately, the documentary reveals that the media’s iron grip on our society has grave ramifications for all segments of society, rich or poor, male or female. 

Vancouverites could benefit from Miss Representation’s message

Vancouver Observer’s founder and publisher Linda Solomon was on SFU's Miss Representation Screening earlier this year.

Though the documentary primarily focuses on problems in the United States, its message resonates worldwide. Closer to home, Miss Representation has also made an impact on Vancouverites. Two months earlier, Simon Fraser University hosted a panel discussion after a screening of the film. At the event, Vancouver Observer’s founder and publisher Linda Solomon acknowledged that that content on VO’s celebrity blog TMI harmed the fight for gender equality and she has since worked with her team to “approach popular culture in a more interesting and meaningful way.”  

Where are the women? 

Weissman’s point hits home hard. For example, a look at Vancouver’s biggest universities, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, reveals disparity between the female population and the number of women in student government. At UBC, women make up 56 per cent of the student population but less than a fourth of the UBC Student Council; while women make up 58  per cent of the population at SFU, men compose 81 per cent of the Student Society Governing Board.  

The implications of few women serving in student government are a serious cause of concern. Research by Jennifer Lawless of the Women and Politics Institute at American University shows that women who are involved in student government are more likely to run for public office. Though the study was conducted in the United States, the correlation is strikingly clear in Vancouver as well; for example, women are only about a little less than a third of the members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

Media lacks coverage of female leaders, compensates with tabloid stories

Sadly, this lack of representation of women in leadership is unsurprising. As Miss Representation demonstrates, young women today are discouraged from seeking leadership roles because there is so little coverage about female leadership in the media. Instead, the media bombards impressionable young women with images of beautiful actors and singers with headlines such as “Miley: Girl Gone Wild” and “Kim Kardashian: I Am So Alone”. Because young women are constantly being exposed to these celebrities, they come to view them as role models -- the type of women to whom others pay attention.

Miss Representation’s motto, “You can’t be what you can’t see", hits home for many who see an unjust bias against women today. 

When the media fails to adequately report on female political and business powerhouses — focusing instead on beautiful, sexualized celebrities — young women have difficulty believing they could ever compete on the same field as men on a professional level. If the film screening was any indication, however, peoples' attitudes are changing, and there may come a day when girls look up to someone like businesswoman Jackie Zehner rather than Kim Kardashian. 

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