Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Girls Club Entertainment, 2011
America, we have a problem. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the filmmaker behind the documentary Miss Representation, saw it; indeed, the impetus of the film was her pregnancy with her daughter and a desire to try to forge a better world for her child.
The film deals with women’s representation in media (in tabloids and in advertisements) and their lack of representation in powerful positions (as heads of media companies or as filmmakers). It’s a lot of information that many feminists know, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it all synthesized so well, nor have I seen the broadest implications of how media is affecting gender roles, politics, and well, everything, brought together in one documentary.
The filmmaker also tells her own very personal story, which prevents the film from ever becoming just a parade of (important, sometimes jaw dropping) statistics and multiple talking heads. Many times, I was moved to tears, as she tells of her own eating disorder and sexual abuse, which will unfortunately resonate with too many viewers.
There are many aspects of the film worth discussing, the sexualization of news anchors, the role of purchasing power and how you can really make a difference as an individual, but one quotation brought up about halfway through the film really stuck with me: the idea that we can’t become what we don’t see, to which the filmmakers mean, we see emaciated models, tabloids speculating about baby bumps, but we don’t see enough business women or female directors.
And lately, I’ve been wondering how that extends to female musicians, especially as The Guardian recently posted a snarky op-ed from DJ Hanna Hanra, “Why are There No Female DJs on DJ Mags Top 100 List.” How can a generation of young women (or any non-cisgenderd males) grow up to be electronic musicians or drummers, if they don’t see them?
And of course, this magazine is a testament to the will of strong women musicians, but I think something has to change; young women must grow up seeing women in positions of power, seeing other women musicians, and being taught their worth is more than a number on the scale, because right now, the mainstream media perpetuates the exact opposite.
This is something worth fighting for, and Miss Representation will get you in the mood to fight. The film was made by one filmmaker out to save her daughter’s future, and in the process we get a history lesson and an excellent sociological exploration of today’s media, which is admittedly bleak for women. It would be easy to lose hope, but luckily the film inspires.
Rachel McKay Steele is a writer, filmmaker, and rabble-rouser living in Brooklyn. You can find her at womanofsteele.tumblr.com.