The Miss Representation film came to our school for a screening and Q&A this week-end.
Much like Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, Miss Representation warns of the danger and damage done by the media-advertising complex, especially for women and girls.
Mainstream media, in the pocket of the advertising industry, “contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America” by showing completely inappropriate images of women, distorting the perception of the average body, and using highly denigrating language, especially as it concerns women in power – with the treatment of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as prime examples. (It’s a subject at the heart of one session in WLP’s political participation manual.) This portrayal of women has been linked repeatedly to an increase in violence against women and girls. The rape headlines in the film alone are chilling.
In addition, much of the advertising industry is based on creating a sense of fear and anxiety in consumers. Girls are among the most vulnerable, and 17% of girls in the US practice self-cutting or self-injury. Clearly this has gone too far.
The film intelligently puts forward the impact on men as well, citing Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ and his experience talking with a female mentor who warned him she thought men had it even worse than women. Men, she said, were taught to be “emotionally constipated”, didn’t even know they were being sold short, and were taught that their behavior was normal.
Years ago, a teacher of mine walked into our classroom with vacation advertising catalogs – the types that show azure skies, white sand beaches and endless swimming pools page after page. The day’s lesson focused on deconstructing the half-lies within the advertised vacation packages. The convenient bus-line at your doorstep means sleeping on a very busy street; the side-shot of the pool distorts its true dimensions, and so on. Much as I detested the teacher’s regular classes (ironically, she was trying to teach us English), this hour of critical analysis of vacation advertising is indellibly inked in my brain.
Miss Representation hopes to launch a vast movement of media literacy education. We would all win from that effort. It is an effort very much tied to creating a sense of agency and empowerment in women and girls, and reconnecting them with their power as consumers as well as citizens.
It became apparent during the Q&A after the screening just how many families at the school, like us, had made the choice not to have a television at all within the home – as a way to protect our children from the media and advertising industries during some of their most fragile years. In fact, for the first time in 20 years, the number of U.S. households with a tv set is dropping. Although all point to the economy as the cause for the drop, perhaps a movement of greatly concerned parents can create a noticeable shift in the US households’ relationship to the often ubiquitous TV, and can help prioritize children’s bodies and perception of normalcy over the convenience of instant access to sports and entertainment channels.