Guest Post: Miss Representation
(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.
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?