A few weeks ago I saw that the OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) was offering an encore presentation of the documentary "Miss Representation" and I set my DVR. I finally found a couple of hours the other day to watch the show and my emotions alternated between disgust, rage and sharp sadness. The film breaks down the role of modern media in perpetuating negative stereotypes of women and girls in a clear, concise way that is an absolute call-to-action.
I found myself cringing from time to time as I agreed with some of the people interviewed for this documentary (among them Katie Couric and Lisa Ling and others who are not household names but are doing really important work). Not because I didn't want to agree with them, but because I have always identified myself as a bleeding-heart liberal - one who believes in freedom of speech and expression. The atrociously misogynistic Go Daddy advertisements come to mind. I can't stand them and the way that women are portrayed, but I have always respected their right to exist. I can't say I still feel that way after watching this film.
As they began to detail the ways in which female leaders are judged in the media (Hilary Clinton was not "assertive" or "certain of her convictions," she was a "harpy" and a "bitch;" Sarah Palin was not judged on her knowledge of issues - or relative lack thereof - but on the way her skirt highlighted her ass and whether or not she had gotten breast implants) I began to laud the physical anonymity of the Internet for helping women's voices and opinions be heard without this kind of scrutiny. Organizations like Moms Rising and Emily's List can amass the voices of many women and present convincing arguments - or at the very least, convincing power - without having to dodge the conversations about whether their leader is a dyke or a man-hater. Let's be honest, anytime a strong female role model has come out to challenge the status quo, regardless of her message, she is instantly judged by her physical attributes. If she doesn't look like one of the original Charlie's Angels, she is instantly pronounced a lesbian and that somehow is supposed to mean that when she opens her mouth, we hear the voice of the parents on every Charlie Brown special, "Wah wah, wah wah, wah wah." If she does look like a pinup, she is carefully examined for any trace of plastic surgery or asked about her exercise regime or diet, as if those things trump the message she is trying to convey. The internet eases some of the pressure in that way. The more women can clearly articulate their positions in writing and band together as groups to support a common cause, the less power the media has to derail their momentum by commenting on her boobs or her fashion sense.
While I still feel that it is important for us to address the way women and girls are treated in the media, I am relieved that there seems to be one place where our words speak louder than our looks. Now, go out there and use it to the best of your ability, folks!
And if you haven't yet seen "Miss Representation," please go see it. Whether you're single or married, have daughters or sons, are female or male, it is an eye-opening documentary that features the voices of men and women alike. Go here to find a showing in your neighborhood.