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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Film criticizes the portrayal of women in media

Depictions of women in media prohibit them from participating in the political process, starting when they are girls and following them long into their professional careers, says “Miss Representation,” a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

Members of the UA and Tucson community filled the Loft Cinema on Saturday morning to see the film. Arizona List, an organization committed to electing Democratic, pro-abortion rights women, sponsored the screening.

“Miss Representation” turns a critical eye on advertising, movies, and television to analyze how the media portray females and what effect their messages have on women and men in American culture.

According to the film, advertisements, movies, magazines and even news programs objectify women. Consequently, the film says, American girls and women objectify themselves, depleting their sense of political efficacy.

“Women’s voices really are being silenced,” said Courtney Martinez, a Mexican-American studies graduate student.

Women make up 51 percent of the American population, and yet only 17 percent serve in Congress, according to the film. It adds that over the course of American history, only 34 women have served as governors.

According to “Miss Representation,” media play a central role in keeping these numbers low by enforcing rigid, one-dimensional gender norms.

“The gender norm is that men bury down their emotions and that women overly express them,” said Laura Neff, an environmental science junior and intern with the UA’s Women’s Resource Center. “Or if women do tend to express emotion, it’s because of something biological; they’re not in their right mind.”

Hollywood and television, the film says, rarely feature women who are strong, independent and powerful. Male politicians and newscasters, it adds, tend to belittle female public figures and focus on their appearance and sex appeal rather than their accomplishments.

American culture starts conditioning girls to perceive themselves as sex objects rather than leaders at a very young age, according to Caryl Flinn, head of the gender and women’s studies department.

“A lot of the things that are going on right now like the tiara toddlers and the baby Miss America things, I mean it’s kind of … it’s laughable and creepy at the same time,” she said.

According to the film, the media not only damage women; they damage men, too. Boys are bombarded by images of powerful, successful men who do not show emotion or weakness, “Miss Representation” says, and in turn, boys grow up “emotionally constipated” and afraid to show vulnerability.

By exposing the damaging effects of media on both men and women in American society, “Miss Representation” hopes to change not only how Americans perceive media messages, but how they perceive themselves.

“I think by calling out some of these norms and saying these norms don’t have to be there, it doesn’t have to be like that, we can have other ways of producing images of femininities and women in mass media without resorting to the same old stale cliches,” Flinn said.

According to Jean Kilbourne, a filmmaker, author and activist who spoke after the film, addressing this issue starts with education.

“We need to teach media literacy in our schools,” she said. “We are the only nation in the world who doesn’t do that.”

Jose Martinez, who moved to Tucson recently from New Mexico, said he thought the documentary’s message was that the media wields too much power in America.

“I’ve had a lot of strong role models, and they’re women,” Martinez said. “I’m very proud of that.”

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