Miss Representation and Representation of the Miss

Please watch:

Ouch.

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Wow, I feel so empowered as a woman…

While I could spend months breaking down each of these offensive moments, it is obvious that the representation of women in the media is not pushing a positive message. We can also see that it isn’t just men who are forwarding on these images, but women as well (Miley Cyrus, Carl’s JR participants etc.).

While much of the commentary about women was…. well… embarrassing to the human race, there was plenty of backlash. Rush Limbaugh and Ford motors were only two prominent examples of repeat offenders who issues extensive apologies and retractions.

But is that enough?

The damage is done the instant the context is seen, read or heard. The impression on the audience has been made. So by offering a quick fix with a low-publicity retraction, a lame apology or political punishment by exile is, (to quote Jo-Jo) too little too late. The PR in these situations is interesting because whether it be political or a product, PR reps know you need to watch what you say, especially when it concerns the female half of the global population (click here to read “2013’s Biggest PR #fails”).

This video was compiled by an organization called The Representation Project:

The Representation Project is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness towards change. Interactive campaigns, strategic partnerships and education initiatives inspire individuals and communities to challenge the status quo and ultimately transform culture so everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation or circumstance can fulfill their potential.

If you haven’t seen this documentary, take a look: (click here to purchase full version):

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I find this organization… exhilarating, freeing, justifying and powerful. The Representation Project is producing fascinating media every day, striking up debates, raising awareness and making a difference. In 2011, the documentary Miss Representation was released, focusing on how women are commoditized in everyday media. This documentary not only swept film festival awards across the world, but it swept the minds of media critics and birthed the organization.

Writer Katie Walsh at the IndieWire wrote:

At the core of “Miss Representation” is the expression of the need for enhanced media literacy in our culture, especially now, when we are constantly bombarded with screens and images and advertising wherever we go. Understanding that media is a construct (sometimes a mirror of society and sometimes what those in power want us to see), motivated by the economic endeavors of large media conglomerates, is a concept that needs to be taught in schools along with reading, writing and arithmetic. It is scary, but necessary in our brave new world, which needs soldiers to keep fighting the good fight against the passive consumption of media. “Miss Representation” offers us one point of entry into this bubbling stew of an issue, but really any minority group could take up this argument with their own representations on screen, and it’s high time we all took a closer look.

Instilling respect at a young age is a fundamental requirement if we want to balance gender perception. The Representation Project presents important values for women in the west and across the world. But where do we start?

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The western perception of Middle Eastern women

Interesting enough, America or “the west” has always fostered a strong interest in the suppression of women in the East. Headlines are splashed with violence against women and point fingers at “the patriarch” to stop sexism. Well, the west isn’t exactly the leader in healthy female media role models. Modernization tactics have targeted the Middle East to adopt the ideal of a “free” woman. After seeing the video above, it’s not so shocking that people in the Second and Third Worlds don’t want to adapt to our hyper-sexualized and degrading female “role model”. It would be going against the grain of many country’s cultures, religions and deeply rooted values. While third wave feminism is a powerful, and in many cases, positive influence, I’m sorry but my daughter will not be watching reruns of Miley Cyrus’ concerts until she’s old enough to vote. There are many representations we want to hide or ignore, a majority originating from the west.

With the media label of “the national war on women”, India is definitely leading headlines of female persecution. According to author and activist Rita Banerjee, within the span of three generations India has systematically targeted and annihilated more than 50 million women from its population. Multiple forms of violence including burnings, acid attacks, beatings and rape threaten women. This has seriously affected the national sex ratio stating 940 women to every 1000 men. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, registered rape cases in India have increased by 900 percent over the past 40 years.

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Memorial honoring women who have been victims of rape

A native Indian author, Sunny Hundal, explored India’s brand of religiosity and the perception of the “honor” of women. These views make it particularly difficult to secure the change in attitudes required to address violence against women. Traditional Hindu beliefs require young women to be raised as docile daughters and later obedient wives. Domesticity is a prized characteristic in women and highly sought after in social circles. However, any sort of deviation from these social norms brings shame to the girl and her family, resulting in often-violent public humiliation.

Many journalists in India are beginning to speak out against this violent reaction and preach teaching sons at a young age to respect and cherish a woman’s safety. While this is a small step to a patriarchal and religious battle that is deeply engrained in men and women, awareness of these attitude are important to stimulate change.

File photo of woman walking past riot police outside a gathering in Kabul's stadiumIn lieu of these reports, the west’s perception of India has changed rapidly in a short period of time. In 2010, India was deemed an emerging economic power alongside China, Russia and Brazil (BRIC). This global optimism was derailed in 2011 after a poll issued by Thomson Reuters displayed India as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women (after Afghanistan, The Congo, and Pakistan). The west has reacted by humiliating India in the media, highlighting the violent gang rapes, acid attacks and public honor punishments. With no way to reclaim a status of economic success, India is now dealing with their “women problem”.

I think the problems in India and this project have a great deal in common, because it reveals that America’s view of gender equality is outdated and confused. We devalue women in the media, in social settings and in daily slang (slut, bi***, p****, etc.), yet we hold developing countries to elitist standards that even developed countries has no hope of meeting. It has taken global exposure, mortification and native journalists to force India to deal with its disparagement of women. In order to become a global economic power, India needs to use its cultural context to abdicate laws allowing violence against women.

If as a reader you actually care about furthering this message and changing these misrepresentations of women, then you have to actually do something. It starts at home, and I’m cleaning house:

Due to the personal impact of Miss Representation on my life, I vow:

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1) To no longer use derogatory words that objectify women or are rooted in female stereotypes.

2) To stop this language from happening around me.

3) To not consume medias or products that unfairly sexualize or demean women.

4) To spread The Representation Project’s message to 1 new person every week.

Your turn?

-S

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