Miss Representation highlights youth efforts to fight sexism in the media

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I recently had the pleasure of attending Jennifer Siebel’s Miss Representation at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Miss Representation explores the  under-representation of women in influential positions and how the mainstream media isn’t fulfilling their role at providing positive images of females. Instead, the disparaging images that we often see -- including over-sexualization or violence against women -- contribute to the exclusion of women from powerful positions in society. 

In the film, Siebel details her own struggles with self-acceptance and expressed hopes for her daughter to live in a world where her appearance is not a determinant of her self-worth. The film highlighted 30 young people attending a conference hosted by Siebel and several Californian businesswomen. For Laura Track, the legal director of West Coast LEAF, the most outstanding part of the film was seeing the thoughtful and engaged young women and men thinking critically about the stereotypes perpetuated by media.

Screenshot from Miss Representation

The young women and men in the media each rejected the way in which media dictates how they should look and behave. The youth were also key to my enjoyment of the film, as their fresh insight was reflected in comments addressing the blatant lack of appreciation for women intellectuals when the body is valued more than the brain.

The political undertones in Miss Representation were a major point of interest in the film. While women comprise 51 per cent of the population in America, they only comprise a meager 17 per cent of the US Congress. Even women like Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin, who were front-runners in the 2008 Presidential race, faced a barrage of sexist comments in the press. At one point of the movie, a commentator is asked what it would be like to have a female president, and he responds:

"You mean besides the PMS and the mood-swings?"

“I found that I agreed with the women represented in the film, regardless of their political affiliation,” stated Angela Marie MacDougall, the executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services.

In Canada, the situation for women mirrors that of the U.S. People are obviously affected by American media, and there is no doubt that the issues in the film are applicable everywhere. One minor shortcoming of the film was that it violence against women was under-represented. As MacDougall stated, “If the media is playing a role in the violence in women’s lives, we have to connect those dots as well”.

Everyone should see this film.  Miss Representation has screenings around the country and these are listed on the official website at missrepresentation.org. “Women have made some important gains in recent decades, but this film was a wake-up call”, said Track. “We still have a long way to go towards equal political representation and decision-making power”.

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