iC Dingbat

From PMS to Sex Objects: How the media misrepresents women

Story by: Hannah DeAngelis '12

Sixty-seven countries have had female heads of state. The United States is not one of them. The American media also lacks women in positions of power, according to the new film MissRepresentation, screened at Colby Feb. 21, followed by a discussion. And that carries profound consequences.

There is a striking absence of minorities in the media, and degrading discussions about the clothing choices and bodies of the most powerful women in the world are standard fare. Women can’t be what they don’t see, the film asserts, and young women are not seeing examples of respected women in power.

Emma Creeden ’12, who volunteers for Hardy Girls Healthy Women, a local organization with the goal of empowering young women and girls, organized the screening and discussion for Colby students and girls from area schools. “My personal awareness of the media’s portrayal of women didn’t develop until I worked with Hardy Girls Healthy Women,” Creeden told the crowd as she introduced the film. “These women and girls empower me to critique media with a new perspective.”

The film features commentary from a host of powerful, well-known women including Margaret Cho, Condoleezza Rice, Geena Davis, Rachel Maddow and Katie Couric— women who could be role models for the young women in the audience. By quoting the media describing female senators as “complaining” and male senators as “stating,” and by showing a newscaster questioning the decision-making skills of a menstruating female head of state, the film concludes that prospects for gender equality in the United States seem bleak

The filmmaker, actress Siebel Newsom, even recalls being told to “remove Stanford M.B.A. from my résumé, because it was too intimidating.”

Members of Pugh Community Board, which cosponsored the film, and Colby students who lead girls’ groups at local schools, led group conversations following the film. Students expressed frustration that the “What Now?” part of the film was lacking. “How do we help our friends and peers see what’s happening?” asked Emma Donohoe ’14. Donohoe’s group, which included a teacher and student from nearby Messalonskee High School, a Waterville High School junior, a Colby professor, and a handful of Colby students, discussed how they might go about sharing what they learned with their communities.

Sharing the film MissRepresentation itself is one place to start, because, as Creeden said, “We must return power to women by developing an awareness.”

The screening was the kickoff event of SHOUT! (Speaking, Hearing, Opening Up Together!), a week of multicultural events presented by the student-run Pugh Community Board. The film will be screened again on Wednesday, March 7, as part of the Feminist Alliance’s Body Image Awareness week.

Hannah DeAngelis '12
Readfield, Maine
Major: Anthropology