"You can't be what you can't see". The words jump out at us from the screen in the trailer for Miss Representation, a new film exposing and challenging the media's portrayals of women and girls, which is causing a stir in the US since its broadcast premiere last week.
Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film interviews teenage girls as well as famous faces like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem in a quest to show the public just what's so wrong about the way the US media treats women and girls and what sort of effect it's having on their lives. Its findings are depressing, showing that while women continue to be seriously under-represented in politics, business and journalism, they're continuously judged on their looks, age and weight. Its aim is to get people thinking about just what is so wrong with all this.
"I'm hoping that we can start the discussion, and actually the discussion turns into action around valuing women in our culture. And that's huge," said Siebel Newsom in a recent interview.
Even if you haven't watched the trailer yet, with its footage of bikini-clad women in music videos interspersed with derogatory newspaper headlines about women politicians, you can probably reel off a list of the ways the media and popular culture makes it abundantly clear what us women are good for. We're the eye candy, the gender whose worth is bound up in how "sexy" we are. We're the bitches and the backstabbers and the lovers of "catfights". The "yummy mummies" and the "slummy mummies". The bosses from hell and the boardroom "ballbusters". When we go into politics, the newspapers run stories on our dress sense and cleavage rather than our achievements. Men turn up at our public appearances holding banners saying "Iron my shirt".
It feels as if a film like this is long overdue. We've seen the reports on the value of really including women and raising them up to their full potential. The positive impact when they participate fully in the workplace, in the making of laws and the running of nations. And yet in countries like the US and the UK - countries seen as leading the way in other areas - women are being let down badly.
The way we're guaranteed to get media attention is by taking our clothes off. Of course the reception will only then be positive if we adhere to certain beauty standards, otherwise our "imperfections" will be raked over. Keeping our clothes on doesn't make us immune either - we're encouraged to judge and snipe from the off at unflattering cuts, visible body hair and unsightly bulges.
I hope the film will really make people think and start productive discussion about how we can combat these messages about women. All too often I think they're accepted as a fact of life. Even when people aren't happy about it there's a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes: that's just how the media is, right? Wrong. Something has to be done - and thankfully, Miss Representation isn't just a film: it's also a campaign.
By signing up through the organisation's website, you can become a Social Action Representative, download materials for use in schools and universities (US/Canada only) and access a conversation guide to help you bring up the issues the film raises with your family and friends.
I for one am excited about the impact all this is going to have as more people watch the film and are moved by its message. If taking action would mean more girls reaching their full potential and not being afraid to show who they really are, would you do it? By refusing to buy into and take notice of the stereotypes that bring us down and patronize us every single day, I think it's possible to effect change.
Check out Miss Representation on Facebook and Twitter for more news.
This post originally appeared on BitchBuzz. Photo via guelphguy's Flickr