Should Your Daughter Watch Miss Representation?

Miss Representation is a 2011 documentary that explores how mainstream media disparagingly portrays women and impacts their opportunities in life. I watched it on Netflix, and when it was over I thought to myself, “I wish I’d seen this when I was 12.” Not that I didn’t feel empowered as a female, growing up; I did. I was raised by my mom; a very independent, intelligent woman, and was surrounded by a variety of positive role models.

And yet…I read magazines and watched television, music videos, and movies. I sometimes compared myself to impossible standards of beauty. I’m sure we all have, at one point or another. But the point Miss Representation makes is eye-opening, to say the least.

As adults, we’re more or less used to a bombardment of bones, beauty, and bitchiness thrown at us every day on reality TV, the news, billboards, kids’ cartoons, videogames, and well… everywhere. But kids’ brains are still developing and their budding synapses can hardly fire fast enough to keep up with what their eyes take in.

In Miss Representation, actress turned filmmaker Jessica Congdon Newsom studies the obstacles women face in the media and the stereotypes that continue to define them. Featuring interviews with noted figures in politics (Nancy Pelosi and Condoleeza Rice), broadcast news (Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow), television (Margaret Cho and Lisa Ling) and movies (Rosario Dawson and Jane Fonda), Miss Representation taps at the glass ceiling that many women in the media still struggle to break. It also examines the double standards applied to females in terms of appearance and persona. But it’s not just about the stars and bars. There are also interesting, insightful thoughts from school children (girls and boys) who talk about their experiences and how they feel about the imagery they see.

Miss Representation is not perfect. There’s some skew for shock value: blonde Jessica Simpson writhing on the hood of a hot rod in a string bikini; rapper Nelly making it rain dollar bills on a video vixen’s crotch; a sexed-up six-year-old on Toddlers and Tiaras; and skinny supermodels made to look even more like stick figures thanks to Photoshop fixes. Also, the film’s pundits may not be as diversified as some would like. There is a lesbian, a few women of color, and a chubby gal – but there aren’t any struggling moms, handicapped women, or immigrants tossing in their 2 cents.

No one documentary film can be everything to everyone. Even though I am well aware of the facts presented in Miss Representation, I still found myself hanging on every word and shaking my head in disbelief at the things I know and believe (for instance, comedian Cho tells the tale how, after being told she had to lose weight in order for her sitcom to remain on air, she was replaced anyway by Drew Carey “because he’s so thin!”). Then there’s fact that female politicians are grilled, “Who’s going to take care of your kids?” as they’re campaigning or in office – while their male counterparts are never asked that question. And so on. We know this.

Our daughters know this, too. But they don’t always know how or why they know it. Miss Representation is an excellent avenue to open a discussion on so many issues (with kids of both sexes). It might be too intense (or boring) for kids under the age of 10 or 11, but it’s a must-see for all others. Highly recommended.

Would you watch Miss Representation with your kids? Why or why not?

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Visit Common Sense Media for more info on this movie’s appropriateness for your child.

Tags : films   documentary   

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