Guest Post: Miss Representation

by Kirsten

(Once a month, The Exponent will be featuring posts from members of the Exponent II board. This is the first in the series. Kirsten is a professional volunteer living in northern Indiana. She is married with two teenage children and loves to spend as much time as possible quilting.  In August of 2011, she became the new president of Exponent II and hopes to keep this amazing organization moving forward.)

 

Last week I went to a showing of the 2011 documentary, “Miss Representation” held on the University of Notre Dame’s campus.  I am currently the Young Women’s president in my ward and attended the showing with one of my counselors and members of the YW presidency from a neighboring ward.  As leaders of young women, we are concerned about the messages they encounter through the media they consume.  The documentary catalogues some staggering statistics:

Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising).

-Women comprise 7% of directors and 13% of film writers in the top 250 grossing films.

-The United States is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures.

-Women hold 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives (the equivalent body in Rwanda is 56.3% female).

-Women are merely 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

-About 25% of girls will experience teen dating violence.

-The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth 18 or younger more than tripled from 1997 to 2007.

-Among youth 18 and younger, liposuctions nearly quadrupled between 1997 and 2007 and breast augmentations increased nearly six-fold in the same 10-year period.

-65% of American women and girls report disordered eating behaviors.

(www.missrepresentation.org/resources/)

The film showed clip after clip of women in bikinis, sexy lingerie, and sexual situations—everything from sitcoms, to reality television, to Doritos commercials.  I have seen these scenes so many times before, but in the context of the film, I found myself looking more critically at them.  The messages that women (and men) get from the media is that a woman’s worth comes from having that perfect, sexy body and those without it do not matter.

When looking at women in positions of power–government, media, CEOs of corporations—the discussions seem to focus on what they looked like, rather than their education and talents.  When Geraldine Ferraro announced her candidacy for vice president, the media used the description, ”First female vice presidential candidate and a size 6!”  Katie Couric regularly agonized over what she should wear on air to be taken seriously.  Or when Condoleeza Rice toured an American Army base in Germany in 2005, dressed in black with leather boots, she was dubbed a “dominatrix.”

How does this fit with the view we as Latter-day Saint women should have of ourselves?  How do we combat this in regards to our daughters and our sons?

As a YW leader I am grateful for the YW theme.  I love that it starts with “We are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us…”  To me, this is the most important thing we can learn—that we are children of God.  I stress with my young women the importance of becoming a complete woman–not for a man, their friends, or society—but for themselves.  When used effectively, the values in the YW theme can help them focus on the inner qualities of a strong woman, rather than the ever-changing, ever-aging bodies we inhabit.

When I got home from seeing the film, I chatted with my 16 year old daughter about what I had seen.  Fortunately she is media savvy and sees these images for what they are—attempts to control how she sees herself.  It makes me happy to know that instead of the latest buxom reality celeb, my daughter knows more about her personal hero, Clara Barton.

What aspects of the media, including social media, do you find challenging?  As parents and/or leaders of children and youth, what strategies have you found successful in helping them analyze what they view? 

 

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9 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    I know this article is dealing with women, but, Ashley Judd was speaking this morning because of the recent comments being made about the puffiness of her face. Her statement basically stated that we are objectifying women with ideas of perfection. This is true enough, but, then she said something that really caught my attention,” men go through this same thing. We, as women expect men to have this same bizarre unattainable attractive quotient. And when they don’t meet those expectations they (men) get labeled with the same negative labels as women do

    • Mhana says:

      That is true, and we should reexamine the damaging standards of masculinity to which we hold our sons/brothers/fathers/husbands/friends. On the other hand, powerful men are rarely judged primarily by their looks. People might hate Obama, but they don’t call him a bitch or a slut. Instead they criticize his policies (I realize its a complex example because people do hurl racial epithets). Being unattractive is no barrier for a man becoming a Supreme Court Judge, but look at all the nasty things they said about Justice Kagan that were entirely about her looks and weight.

      What is hard I think is that even if you ARE aware and DO think critically about the way women are represented, that doesn’t mean the constant barrage isn’t affecting you. It helps to awaken women and girls and have them see through the lies, but are you constantly working at ignoring bad messages? No, most times you let them wash over you without thinking about it, because “it’s just a commercial” or you’re thinking about something else. But it still affects us.

      • Diane says:

        I’m not to sure that I agree with you on this point. Take for instance my beloved Phillies. They have one player, a pitcher by the name of Cole Hamels. He is commonly referred to as “Pretty Boy,” or “Mr Hollywood.” Which is pretty derogatory if you think about it.

    • Jessica F says:

      I think we as a society are sexualizing men as well. Although I think it much less of an issue than what we do to women. I was counting today as I rode the tube and walked around London. There was only one add that sexualized men. Unlimited for women.

      I do think that we have to be aware to not swing the other way. But I do think that since men hold more influential power in most cultures that sex is less of an issue for exploiting men. But I think that we have to erase it from culture all together for both genders and not be blind to the injustices that face men just because they at the moment are less bad then for women.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    The biggest problem I see with media is that there is just too much of it. The quantity of visual images a young person sees is too much to digest. When our two youngest daughters were just entering their teenage years, we moved into a house on an island where we did not have access to commercial television. For seven years, our only media exposure was through rented movies (this was pre-internet). We thought it would be difficult, but after the first couple of months, we realized how much there was to do and how much happier we all were without the bombardment of images from the screen. We never restricted what our children read and put very little restriction on what they did or even what they wore (just had to be clean and cover their tummies), so I don’t think we were overprotective or prudish. It may seem old-fashioned or much too drastic, but I really believe that reducing the images we see each day would make a difference.

    • Kirsten says:

      I agree with you about too much consumption. For our household, the best gift we ever got was our TiVo machine (DVR) It has literally changed how we watch television. My children choose great programming to record–among their favorites are Mythbusters, Pawn Stars and old Twilight Zone reruns– and they watch them every now and then. They can fast forward through commercials. We’ve found that we watch less TV– with no channel-surfing. After watching the documentary, I find that I engage my kids in discuss more about the TV and movies we do see. I will point out how many women are in the show, what roles they play, and what could make the show better.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m excited that we will be viewing this film at the Sophia Gathering this year and I anticipate an interesting discussion afterward.

    I really liked Tina Fey’s biography, particularly her section about photo-shoots. She highlights the fact that EVERYBODY airbrushes images and takes for granted that everybody knows that. Unfortunately, I’m not sure they do.

    • Kirsten says:

      I think the airbrushing issue has become more widely know in the last few years. However, I don’t know if the younger set can make the separation between what is doctored and what is authentic. So rarely do they see an “average” woman on the cover of a magazine. And even then, those photos are retouched as well…

  4. dwg says:

    Women do hold the priesthood here on earth… in the temple. Women perform the ordinances in the temple by the power of the priesthood. It is limited in scope and capacity but it is there. This sentence is right on:
    .” Thus women have not only unlimited spiritual potential, but will have unfettered access (in time) to the creative and governing power of our Heavenly Parents.”
    I firmly believe that in time we will inherit all the Father has if we are worthy. For now, for reasons best known to God, the structure is so. But I’m fine with that. God is perfect, all-knowing and loving, and I have no doubt that His plan includes maximum happiness and opportunities for me and everyone who will follow Him.

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