Despite the opening sequence presenting Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice as the new role models, I managed to force myself and even persuade my second half to watch Miss Representation. The documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom ‘exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America’ – who would have thought?
While my dearest can’t complain about the movie at the risk of being dubbed ‘sexist’, I have a privilege of expressing my thought on how we, women, are deprived of opportunities to get our voices heard and even spice it up with few comments about men who get away with being fat and ugly – isn’t it great to be a woman?
True, women’s rights abuses are as present in contemporary society as they were through out history. Perhaps, at times, they are better masked, but this makes it all the more difficult to oppose an enemy, if you can’t see it’s face. However, in her struggle to built a better world for her newborn daughter, the director of Miss Representation completely miss-es the point, and here is why:
Rights and Responsibilities
In their fight for equal rights, women managed to find a very comfortable, but not exactly fair position: ‘It’s all about equality until the bill comes’. It troubles me that many of us like to be feminine and receive compliments for our looks, but complain about being treated as sexual objects, demand equal pay, but expect men to take care of expenses. We play gender roles as and when it suits us, then declare the whole game is unfair. Equal rights come with equal responsibilities – something many women are not that eager to embrace.
Equal vs Identical
As a female photographer, I am often asked how I feel about working in a male-dominated industry, and I feel just fine. I simply accept that there are jobs that my male colleagues are better equipped to perform and vice versa. Instead of chasing every opportunity and complaining that the reason I came second in an interview is purely sexism, I try to focus on what I am good at and enjoying all the support I get as a minority while doing so.
The problem is that people often confuse the terms ‘equal’ and ‘identical’, trying to go against mother nature, rather than fighting social prejudices. The first one refers to our fundamental rights as free human beings and, yes, sure thing, man and women have equal rights, both of which are oppressed, although not always in equal proportions. However, we are by no means identical! Men and women each have their strength and weaknesses , things we are naturally better at (by which I don’t mean cleaning and cooking, although I will readily admit that men are better chefs). Those characteristics refer to our prime roles as child-bearers looking after the family household, but can and should be employed in a range of new ways in the 21st century. We are naturally more emotional, better organised and supposedly have a higher threshold of pain (although some recent researches suggest the opposite), so embracing those qualities and working them to your advantage seems a much more effective way forward.
Is that because I am a woman?
The film highlights some shocking commentary about women doing intellectual jobs being attached and deemed unattractive – a quality their male counterparts arguable get away with. This is outrageous and the recent reaction to Marion Bartoli winning the Wimbeldon only confirms how close-minded some people are.
However, I would argue that men get attacked for their looks almost as often (in fact, the former Latvian president Valdis Zatlers is better know for his appalling hairstyle than his political doings), we just assume that they care less. But do they? Men are put under as much pressure to stand up to the social expectations: to look like Brad Pitt, be strong, independent, successful in their careers, provide for their family and achieve all of that while competing against female colleagues demanding constant pay-rise on the premise of gender equality. Moreover, they receive much less support, often unable to share their insecurities at the threat of being perceived ‘weak’ and ‘unmanly’.
The evil media:
The film synopses quotes:
‘In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader’
It’s convenient to blame to media for shaping the wrong ideas in our compliant minds, but it’s the first part of the statement that I find much more alarming.
The entire film is based on the premise that the media feeds our children the wrong ideals, so we need to change it (or, since we are not really in control of the media, it needs to sort itself out somehow). This is another comfortable position that outsources the responsibility to the third party. Indeed, it’s easier to blame the media for sending out the wrong messages than doing something about your kids consuming it for more than 10 hours every day (by far the most shocking fact that the film presents).
Many people fail to understand that the media in its current form and shape is there for a reason. It feeds from advertising, suffers from censorship, is heavily influenced by PR and in the best instances simply has no manpower to filter the crap that is being constantly pumped into its system. Moreover, it serves a particular purpose – to entertain, not educate – and by means of a complex strategy of its various outputs creates a dumb consumer eager to buy more, not an intelligent citizen questioning the information they are being fed.
So instead of blaming the media for not empowering our girls to be leaders, why not switch the TV off and spend some time with your kids, teaching them the life values you want the next generation to live by?