“Miss Representation” exposes sexism in American media and politics

In a crowded 100-seat screening at the Santa Monica YWCA last Wednesday night, a visibly angry Suzanne Wayman Harris stood and shouted, “In my experience the U.S. is the most sexist country in the world—I’ve lived here six years and I’m constantly thinking ‘I can’t believe I just heard that!’” Harris, born in England, explained that she has lived in the Far East and Europe, and is deeply disappointed by the U.S. She has great concerns about raising her daughter here. Harris was not alone in her sentiment, as many of her mostly female audience members seemed both enlightened and disturbed by the facts presented in the documentary. The YWCA presented the film in conjunction with the online radio program “Broad Topics” and The Commission on the Status of Women.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom wrote and directed the feature-length documentary “Miss Representation” with the intention of shedding new light on an old problem: The consistently unfair representation of women and girls in U.S. media. In a pre-written statement, read by event co-host and Director of Youth Development Veronica Castro Sabaghi at the YWCA last week on Wednesday, Newsom said: “I made this film to inspire us all to be agents for change.”

Many Americans accept that sexism, like racism, is deeply rooted in our culture and politics, but may not realize the extent to which it exists today. Newsom used commentary from celebrities like Rosario Dawson and political figures Nancy Pelosi, as well as ordinary people, to modernize and personalize the issues discussed.

“Miss Representation” began on a silent black screen with a quote from author Alice Walker displayed in bold white letters: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” The film played out as a series of commentaries

by celebrities and people explaining their experiences and opinions on sexism. The commentaries were broken up by short vignettes of provocative images and statistics flashing under the narration of Newsom.

Many of the documentary’s clips and statistics focused on how poorly women, who make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, are represented in government.

This lack of representation was portrayed to be both a cause and effect of the lack of positive role models and beneficial policies for women.

One of the most eye-opening comments in the film came from ninth grader Urenna, when she explained how she started worrying about her weight in the fifth grade and is still doing so now. National news anchor Katie Couric follwed up by saying that many people have become conditioned to a point that those of average size are afflicted by “Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance—a flaw that is either minor or imagined.”

One segment of the film showed how a magazine ad of a model is digitally enhanced, step-by-step, removing all blemishes and creating and unrealistically thin and sculpted body. Newsome expressed that media consumers are constantly bombarded by these distorted images.

“Miss Representation” did an efficient job of presenting a wealth of information without ever coming across as dry or preachy.

The controversial subject matter and star-studded cast of commenters, spliced in with images of sex and violence, did not hurt the movie’s appeal. Since it’s premier at the Sundance Film Festival last year, the film has been aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network and is currently being screened at select locations throughout North America.