Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Miss Representation

As part of my graduate program, I have two internships to do. This year I work 16 hours a week with my university's Campus Safety Project. Part of a grant, we work on a campus level and far beyond about domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment, sexual assault, civility, and social norms. I am steeped in programming, language, and thoughts about these subjects at all times, particularly when I am also volunteering for the domestic violence shelter/24 hour hotline on my personal time. This has become extremely important to me, and begun to change how I view my own relationships.

Tonight we screened one of the most important films I've ever seen, Miss Representation. I suppose as a caveat I should state that my favorite film genre is "documentaries that make me angry," a love created by one of my most influential professors, Jerry Marx of the University of New Hampshire. Needless to say, this fit the need. Though one is best served by going to their website and learning directly from them, this film is largely about how women are represented and devalued in our media, and how we have internalized that and expect women to conform to these stereotypes. This is not a typical presentation, however. This film is absolutely impossible to ignore, as one is constantly impacted by statistics, facts, and horrific examples of what our media projects, not just in the places where sexism is a given like beer commercials, but the horrible things our news people say or the difference in how women are written about in articles when compared to how the men are described.

Before the title card had even come up on Miss Representation, I felt terrible. I felt profoundly guilty for my own behaviors, thoughts, and self-objectification that have contributed to the problems identified in the film. I wake up every day and look for clothes that make me look good, and, ideally, thin. I log my calories on my phone, with an absurdly low goal that is shaming at best. I put on as much makeup as I have facial features for. I have deluded myself into believing skin tight pants and a low cut shirt are “comfortable.” I look at other women and judge each and every inch of them. Although I don’t intentionally look at celebrity or gossip sites, and feel quite smug about that, should I happen to be sent a link to an “article” on one, I find myself lost for hours, looking at images of people who are pretty for a living, and who are subsequently derided by a public eager to punish them for normalcy. I compare myself to other women. I compare other women to myself. I am no better than the producers of objectifying films, or the marketers of beer and sports cars, or the magazine editors who order retouching on models.

I was overwhelmed by how much work there is to do. I’m 25 – I’ve always had protected access to abortions, birth control, most schools, sports, been told I can do anything I want. I’m not used to having to fight. I don’t think most women now feel there are still things to fight for, if ostensibly we’re supposed to have it better now. In high school, when I was on student congress, we would frequently discuss the Equal Rights Amendment and bringing it up for ratification again. I never understood the power of this amendment and I never saw the point of it until tonight. I truly regret that I hadn’t been more attuned to its importance then and fought for it; though we were a mock setting, I feel I could’ve given myself the knowledge and fire to change the woman that I grew into, the woman described in the first paragraph. When I left Wishcamper, I saw a sign pointing to “Ph.D in Public Policy,” and I whispered “see you next.” I’m struck now by the fact that during this film, the people I was drooling with admiration for were those who were directors of policy institutes or the leaders of organizations like NOW, and of course Rachel Maddow. I was not admiring the “sexy” women like I have been taught to do. I was planning to send the children I do not have to Montessori Schools and subscribe them upon birth to New Moon Girls magazine so that they may have a better shot at growing up believing their worth is greater than their bodies. I immediately began to fantasize about changing the world, about what I can actually do as soon as I get home to change the reality I no longer accept.

The statistics blew me away. I’m used to “my” statistics as a person who works with domestic violence programs, about how many women will experience abuse in a lifetime. With Miss Representation and the Be an Ally retreat also put on by my internship, it’s been a slap in a face to see that this statistic comes from somewhere – our cultural devaluing of women, tricking them into believing they deserve to be an object, to be treated poorly, to live to serve men. Additionally, men are socialized to believe they have to be macho, free of emotion, and exercise control over others to prove their worth. As a commenter in the video said, “this is not a genetic trait.” We have taught ourselves to behave this way. We teach each other to fit into these roles by punishing them for stepping outside of them. Each and every one of us is guilty, without even knowing it – it’s become so engrained in what it means to be male or female

Working with the Campus Safety Project has brought up a myriad of uncomfortable feelings for me. These feelings have also served to empower me to look more critically at my world, on micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Whether it was when my abuser showed up in the cafeteria while I did healthy relationship programming and I got an education in No Contact orders at USM, or when I was planning on seeing a person who has attempted to manipulate me into unwanted situations multiple times, and the conduct committee training I was at made me realize that this is not okay and so I chose not to go out with him, or Miss Representation firing me up to change the world, I have become uncomfortable… and that is the first step to change. I hope to go on and make many others uncomfortable, as well.

View the trailer for Miss Representation here:

1 comment:

Bic said...

Great post! Hopefully I can watch the film online or get it through the library.