Miss Representation: Women in Media

History is being made at this very minute. People have banded together to demand global socio-economic justice and reform. This call for accountability from our government and the corporations which shape so much of our lives should not be limited to areas of finance, or legislative reform. That is only one part of the problem.

Racism is part of the problem. Sexism is part of the problem. Gender bias is part of the problem. Global warming is part of the problem. Political corruption. Greed. etc.

With so many weighty problems in front of us, it may not be immediately obvious why women’s roles in media is so germane to the discussion. The answer is very simple: The portrayal of women in media is critical because it directly affects today’s youth, their mental health, aspirations and capabilities. They are the future of our country and the inheritors of our legacy.

Miss Representation aired on the OWN network on 10/20/11. The subject matter was women’s roles in the media, which is too oft dismissed and scantily, no pun intended, covered, if at all. I have no memory of seeing a similar, or hard hitting program and that, in itself, underscores the problem with media today. I apologize for the length but felt the summary too worthwhile to truncate.

Here are some statistics from the program:

  • American teenagers spend an average of 10 hrs and 45 minutes per day on media consumption.
  • Rates of depression among women and girls has doubled bt. 2000 and 2010.
  • U.S. advertisers spent $235.6 billion dollars on advertising in 2009.
  • Women spend an average of $12 – 15K on beauty services per year. Far more than we spend on education.
  • Women are 51% of the U.S. population but only constitute 17% of Congress.
  • 34 women have served as governors, compared to 2,319 men.
  • 67 countries have had female presidents or prime ministers. The U.S. is not one of them.
  • Cuba, China, Iraq and Afghanistan have more women in government than the U.S.

We often discuss the harsh reality of sexism and yet we accept the negative and self-limiting roles of women portrayed in the media. It’s just another harsh part of reality and we rarely spend time considering the ramifications. Watching this program was a terrible wake up call for me because it goes way deeper than being insulted and disgusted, the consequences are much more dire for America’s youth, which has present and future ramifications.


Sex sells and sexy women sell the best so we see these images everywhere but there is a method to the madness, namely corporate greed. It is only the corporations that profit from our eroding self esteem.

The hyper-sexualization of our culture is everywhere and the message is clear. Young women are being taught that their attractiveness, sexuality and youth are the most desirable attributes. The visual images we receive are inaccurate portrayals of what real women look like. Thanks to Photoshop, cosmetic surgery and the like, images are modified to uphold an unattainable standard of beauty. In response, women mistakenly tie their self worth to these attributes, creating a windfall for the corporations.

  • This is why we hear these crazy stories about perfectly good looking young women having plastic surgery when there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.
  • This is why eating disorders and depression are on the rise amongst girls and women.
  • It boggles the mind that the average woman spends more money on her appearance than her education. We are investing in the one thing that is sure to fade.


“You can’t be what you can’t see.” Marian Wright Edelman

Illusory standards are beauty are only one problem. Because there are such limited portrayals of women, they help to reinforce what we believe we are capable of. There are other more pervasive problems like gender bias that are tied to our societal norms, handily reinforced by the media. 

Can you answer any of the following?

  • Why are women in leadership roles so often harangued for being a bitch?
  • Why are women constantly scrutinized and judged for their appearance by both sexes?
  • Why do we so rarely see a movie with complex female characters?
  • Why are we so often portrayed as the stereotypical roles of wife, mother or whore?
  • Why have we not yet had a female president?

Face it, most of the movie’s you see are women scheming to get a man, getting over losing a man, trying to keep her man, or upholding/standing by her man. That’s hardly what is needed to inspire great leadership, critical thinkers and great achievers.

Part of the problem is the limited amount of women who contribute to the programs we see. If the perspective is largely derived from men, it is understandable why we come across as one-dimensional. Yet somehow, we buy into this ideology and the frequently spoken idea that women are biologically inferior and therefore incapable of leadership. More gender bias and it’s from women.

You’ve seen it around but you can’t quite pinpoint it. You should ask yourself…

  • Are you guilty or mistrustful of other women because they are “catty”?
  • Did you wonder how Sarah Palin would balance her kids and work responsibilities?
  • Do you think Hilary Clinton is a hard ass? That she would never have made it this far in politics without Bill?

I’ve heard all these things from women and they are examples of gender bias at work. It works so beautifully that many women actually believe that men make better leaders. Yet, there is no biological basis for this belief.

Women in Politics

“6% of the population is what we pick from for our national leadership. No wonder we are unhappy with the results.” Gloria Steinman

The pool we pick from? Male, White/European Americans, Married, Heterosexual, Over 35, College Educated and Professional Degree. Yes, no wonder.

Not only do we develop gender bias but we begin to objectify ourselves, limiting our potentiality and any hope of empowerment. A consequence of self-objectification is lower political efficacy which means that we are less likely to run for office, or vote.

The political landscape would greatly benefit from female inclusion. Without it, we do not have a true democracy, as the perspectives which shape our world are missing the female voice.   

We can thank the media for this as well since women are either, directly discouraged from seeking leadership roles, or indirectly, as is underscored by their absence. Ever wonder what happened to Geena Davis in Commander in Chief? Cancelled after one season.

It matters. It all ties together in a clear line for anyone with half a brain to see. Watch the program. Tell your friends. Stop the negative self-talk. Encourage your children to critically analyze the images they see. Take time to explain to them and encourage them to do something that defies social norms and expectations. Make sure that they are not developing hero worship for some chick who is cut and pasted together. Support women in film and politics, and boycott some of the crap they are feeding us. Look inward for your worth, or to other everyday women who do the phenomenal everyday.

My business card holder says, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” 😉

Visit the Miss Representation website here and Media Matters because your voice matters.


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