Childrearing

‘Miss Representation’ Names Sexism In The Media A Priority In Post-Millennial Parenting

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We at Mommyish spend much of our time here combating the media depictions of women as they impact our kids. Whether it’s the sexualization of young girls, a sexist ad by JC Penney’s, a slew of T-shirts telling girls that they can’t do math, or an array of media images that encourage them to play dumb, be pretty, and never aspire to achieve, these messages are no doubt everywhere. Even reality TV, which we all acknowledge now is pretty scripted, relies on the same tropes that all women are women are narcissistic and materialistic to generate viewership.

Miss Representation, a documentary film, tackles how this misrepresentation of women in the media impacts children of both genders, recognizing the epidemic as a top priority in post-millennial parenting. Featured voices on the topic include Katie Couric, Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson, Gloria Steinem, and many others.

Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the actress and spokesperson opens the film with her own struggles with eating disorders as a young woman as well as the criticism she faced about her physical appearance as a woman going into acting. Beginning with the birth of her own daughter, she begins her journey into media literacy as an expectant mother skeptical of how the media treats women and girls.

What she uncovers in her film is a wealth of data surrounding how this sexist media impacts children, in that girls learn from a very young age that their physical appearance is what matters most and boys learn that physical beauty is what is most valuable about girls. Meanwhile, women’s achievements and accomplishments go underrepresented in the press. Experts weigh in on everything from reality TV, to the 2008 presidential election, to commercials, television shows, and music videos. And in our increasing digital age, where all of this media is becoming more readily accessible through smartphones, iPads, and computers, there really is no limit to how much a modern child can consume.

Some of the footage is heartbreaking as girls in elementary school cry into the camera about being obsessed with their weight while other segments are quite reassuring. High school age girls speak articulately about how the press openly degrades the most prominent women in our country simply by not wearing “enough” makeup or for wardrobe choices.

At a screening last week in New York City, Newsom said that “Parents are really fed up,” and that they have “the unique opportunity to change [this] cultural landscape.”

One of the film’s producers added that she felt sorry for today’s parents who have to filter the daily media consumption in their home. “Parents have to re-sensitize themselves,” she added. “Really stand for something. Watch your own habits.”And given that parents are giving their 13-year-old daughters nose jobs, I’d say that re-sensitization is more than needed.

Newsom and producers stressed that not buying those trashy magazines and sticking by your own convictions tells kids that these messages don’t matter — while also conveying to advertisers that you’re not buying their sexist crap. Or you can take a page from the Geena Davis book of parenting and engage your kids in conversation about why their favorite animated heroine is wearing so little and why she may have other functions besides being a love interest.

What truly makes this film fantastic for parents (and the childless for that matter) is that is acknowledges that the media does have power over our children. And that with this tremendous power to influence kids and their perceptions of the world, we need regulation and change.

Be sure to catch this documentary on the OWN network on  Oct. 20th at 9pm ET/8pm CT, followed by a special with Rosie O’Donnell.

(photo: missrepresentation.org)