Women and the Media, Revisited.

Last week, I attended a screening of Jennifer Seibel Newsom’s new film, Miss Representation. It was a fun night out with the girls on a beautiful summer evening, but the movie’s content wasn’t uplifting, nor was it meant to be. The film documents the role of media in today’s society and how it marginalizes women through its pervasive emphasis on sex and violence  and its tendency to air content that is disrespectful to our women leaders.

Unfortunately, this “stuff” sells. The media is trying to capture as many eye-balls (and ears) as possible to maximize profits and the more provocative the content, the better. Some of the worst offenders are the most visible – talk show hosts or political analysts who get away with name- calling and worse, especially during political campaigns. The film has some clips of the likes of  Bill O’Reilly, Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh spouting some nasty commentary in regards to women candidates. Who can forget the Hilary bashing during the 2008 campaign with much airtime about the tone of her voice, her hair and attire?

Imagine the impact on the younger generation in the U.S. who are continually exposed to these viewpoints? My friends and I, who are past the bloom of youth, reacted to the film similarly at first – so, what else is new? But we realized after some discussion that this documentary is an excellent wake-up call that all-is-not-as-it-should-be and that perhaps we should get over our complacency and be part of the solution.

After all, women have power. They make over 80% of consumer purchases in the U.S. – from soap to cars to houses. Women also control a lot of private wealth – $14 trillion at last count (out of approximately $55 trillion). Women make up 51% of the U.S. population. In contrast, within our most powerful institutions – media, government and business – female representation is shockingly low. Only 3% of women hold clout positions in the mainstream media, only 17% of seats in the House of Representatives and merely 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

How can women use their buying power and majority to help more women get promoted, elected and recognized? Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the explosive growth in cosmetic surgical procedures performed each year on American girls (more than tripled between 1997 and 2007) there was this kind of growth in the number of women in our legislative bodies? Wouldn’t our dollars be better spend on education instead of liposuction?

Becoming a conscientious consumer is one way to stimulate change. Some ideas:

  • Buy products that support, instead of offend, your values.
  • Select media (movies, television, games,magazines,books) that portray positive messages about gender.
  • Support men and women political leaders with your vote and/or dollars who fight for the ideals you believe in.
  • Go see Miss Representation! Bring the children and men in your life.
  • Take the Miss Representation pledge.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”   Alice Walker

Related Links:
Blog post from Sally Around the Bay: “Money Honey
Blog post from Small Change: when deju vu draws the same blank
Blog post from Tam Holland: The Week of Representing

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