You've probably seen the photo (above) pinging around the Internet recently of the panel of old men making some pretty important decisions about women's health in the ongoing fracas about contraception. Here are five men sitting at the power table, while the women watch, waiting for a decision that will impact their lives and bodies.
Wow. What happened here? Wasn't there a women's movement? Shouldn't women have enough power to have been seated at the table by now? How did we get to this point?
Ask a roomful of seven-year-olds and both boys and girls in equal numbers will say they want to be President of the United States someday. Ask them again at 15, and the girls will have learned better. After all, even in our enlightened age, women are 51 percent of the population, but only 17 percent of Congress. The United States ranks 90th in the world, behind China, Cuba, and Afghanistan, in percentage of women in government.
That's the kind of thing you learn from Miss Representation, a 90-minute documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom which focuses convincingly on the role the media plays in disempowering women. The meat of the movie is clip after clip after sexist clip from various media that might just blow your mind a little bit, even if you're a media savvy sort.
And this isn't just sex-sells tits and ass, though there is plenty of that. There are also dozens of clips, from TV news in particular, of women being objectified, ridiculed, and dismissed in ways so insidious, they almost escape consciousness until you see them strung together.
Miss Representation debuted last year at the Sundance Film Festival and was shown on the Oprah Winfrey Network. It's currently making the rounds of colleges and other alternative venues. It will be screened in the library at UTA on March 1, tonight at 8 p.m. at SMU at the Hughes-Trigg student center (3140 Dyer Street, the show is free), and other places in the area;check the website
. (You can watch an eight-minute trailerhere.
I saw the movie at Collin College in McKinney a couple of weeks ago, surrounded by students, professors and people involved in domestic violence and mental health organizations--in other words, a lot of people who had a pretty good idea of what they were going to see. Nonetheless, we all alternated between bitter laughter and horrified gasps at the sexism and misogyny that skips across the ubiquitous screens in our lives, pretending to be innocent fun.
Yes, all the girls in bikinis and licking things off their fingers and rolling around in soap suds. But also Hillary Clinton described as "haggard" and old. Sarah Palin being asked about breast implants. Nancy Pelosi being mocked about plastic surgery. PMS and mood swings cited as reasons a woman should not be in the White House.
"The fact that media are so derogatory towards the most powerful women in the country -what does it say about the media's ability to take any woman in America seriously?" says Jennifer Pozner, founder of Women in Media & News.
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Interviews include male and female TV execs and media experts, and women on the front lines. Rachel Maddow chuckles ruefully about the hate her mere existence on television inspires. Katie Couric puzzles over the media's fixation on her legs. Margaret Cho points out that after ABC dropped her sitcom because they thought she was too fat, she was replaced by Drew Carey. (Audience: Bitter laughter) Condaleeza Rice, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Geena Davis, Rosario Dawson and others also speak up.
The documentary doesn't have a light touch, but that's okay. The stuff it focuses on is so prevalent, most of us take it for granted and barely even notice. This movie grabs you by the ears, turns your head and says, "Look at this."
Yikes. How did this happen?
Well, for one thing, women hold just three percent of powerful positions in the mainstream media.