Had you ever heard of the documentary Miss Representation? I hadn’t. And yet, it seems to encapsulate in one fell swoop almost all of the social concerns I have for the next century. The American documentary, premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, explores how (American) mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of females. For a prime (and frankly, shocking) example, pay close attention to the video below around the 2.45 mark.
Although the film is indeed very America-centric, this is still relevant to us across the Atlantic, given how much of the pop culture media we consume is American. Some of the statistics are quite stunning – America is actually regressing in its journey towards gender equality. This comes as less of a surprise once we consider such TV programmes as ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians‘, ‘Gossip Girl‘ and the late ‘The Hills‘. America is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an anomaly – there are only two countries with 50% or more women in parliament – Andorra and Rwanda. After that, the numbers fall dramatically.
Although we studied it at university, I have yet to see such a compelling distress signal regarding the deeply harmful effects that the misogynistic portrayal of women in the media might have on society as this film. Western nations love to pat themselves on the back for treating women equally, quick to compare themselves favourably against such backward nations as Iran where women are subjugated by the rules of Sharia law. However, the case against the Western (or at least, the American) media is strong and as the movie points out, it is only growing stronger,
It is my wont to swiftly draw comparisons between America and Europe. On Sunday the 15th of January, French journalist Anne-Sophie Lapix welcomed the far-right leader of the Front Nationale party Marine Le Pen onto her Sunday night current affairs show Dimanche +. In the space of about ten minutes, Lapix, probably as well-known for her looks than her journalism up to that point, calmly and efficiently destroyed Le Pen’s economic policies in a battle of the titans that is now all over the French press. If for no other reason, and even though the entire conversation is in French, it is worth a watch just for the pure spectacle – the meaning of what they are saying can probably be inferred simply through their body language.
What I found interesting about the segment was the way in which these women were being portrayed. Sophisticated, intelligent, and calm – they seemed to embody the exact opposite of the stereotypes referred to in ‘Miss Representation‘ of women as hysterical bimbos probably suffering from PMS. The more disappointing facet to this is the fact that France isn’t even a bastion of gender equality (although progress is slowly being made). I can’t even grin smugly and say ‘at least somebody’s doing it right – vive la différence!’.
How are we ever expected to achieve the dream of universal equality when we so readily ignore this derogatory treatment of women in a media we consume so voraciously? What does it say about our progress or indeed even our desire for progress? As the older brother of an eighteen year-old girl, the statistics and the evidence are hardly comforting. I don’t know what she wants to do with her life, I’m sure she doesn’t either, not just yet. No doubt her plans are ambitious. Looking at the trailer for this movie really makes me wonder what I’m supposed to say to her, other than ‘well, do your best’.