Film Review: Miss Representation

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The solidarity of Lancaster women was prevalent at the Miss Representation film screening on February 1st, as Lancaster ladies dominated the lecture theatre to watch and respond to the film with shared distaste. Jennifer Newson’s documentary (2011) exhibits how mainstream media contributes to the misrepresentation of all women. The event organisers were keen to spread the hash-tag ‘#lancswomenlead’ to encourage others to join in the ‘Red Pill campaign’, which aims to open people’s eyes to the everyday gender bias that passes most of us by.

As I walked into the George Fox building, my first observation was someone’s t-shirt with the slogan ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not looking’. Immediately I ask myself, am I not looking? The extreme mistreatment of women, such as the high number of female rape or domestic abuse victims (one in four girls experience teen rape violence), is outrageous, but with regards to the every day world we live in, are there demonstrations of sexism that we overlook?

The film explained that the media shapes public opinion, consequently effecting how men and other females treat women. With this in mind, the media’s representation of individual females, for example through objectification, indirectly feeds the mistreatment of all women. It featured reports about a woman’s success being dominated by their appearance – in the opening sequence, the statement ‘Breast implants: did you have them or not? Because it’s all over the Internet?’ is asked by a woman interviewing Sarah Palin. Whether it was a genuine question or a comment on what is considered newsworthy content in the media, the physical appearance of a public woman has become more important than her political work. Coverage on female candidates running for president included inappropriate questions, such as ‘Who’s going to be looking after your children?’ Clinton was portrayed as emotional in the headline ‘Hilary tears up’ and additionally pinned as unable to handle the job. When a male politician cried, no such comment was made. Clinton attempted to be viewed as an equal to men, but was criticised in mainstream media for being a ‘bitch’ or a ‘nagging wife’. Palin attempted to uphold a more feminine persona, but was sexualised in media coverage. In these cases, the media circulated limited and disparaging portrayals of women.

Miss Representation states that only 16% of film protagonists are female. When women are the main role, their lives revolve around men and attempts to win their attention. Powerful women in action or superhero movies are often dressed in absurd, sexualised clothing, such as tight, revealing leather. Have you ever commented on the ridiculousness of a woman fighting in high heels, but deemed it as ‘just a movie’, therefore not important? One main rejection of these stereotypes that comes to mind is The Hunger Games franchise. However, since discussing this problem it has been pointed out to me that although the female protagonist may be courageous and self-efficient she is still beautiful, which could make young girls feel inadequate. For me this raises alarm bells – how far do we have to go to become equal to men? Film is meant to present a fantasy world, and Katniss Everdeen can simultaneously kill people, save Peeta and look beautiful doing it. The great thing about Katniss is we relate to her courage, loyalty and skill, not her beauty. What we do want is more of these powerful, and independent female characters in film.

Unfortunately, everyone is subjected to music videos such as ‘Blurred Lines’ with scantily clad women. Even Lily Allen’s ‘Hard Out Here’, which explicitly highlights the degradation of women, simultaneously puts the image of women in small gold bikinis into the public eye. However, most of us are oblivious to the extent of the misrepresentation of women. In the documentary, a woman commented on how people always tell her “But we’ve come so far…we’ve already beaten inequality”, and to a certain extent I was one of those people. I think this demonstrates how the sexualisation of women in music videos, television, movies and even on the news, all of which we’re exposed to, is treated as ‘normal’. Miss Representation showed that women do not challenge female objectification enough and it is time we did.

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