Today is INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY and I embrace all my sisters the world over!  Female empowerment is one of THE pivotal issues of the 21st century and I am about to add fuel to the fire.  I have just finished watching one of the most infuriating movies I have ever seen. It’s a 90-minute documentary that debuted at the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in 2011 called MISS REPRESENTATION, an excruciatingly enlightening film about the plight of women in our culture right now. I say “excruciating” because of what is STILL TRUE in the year 2012:  women are underserved, underrepresented, and underpaid.  The film is screening around the world in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History month!

According to filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom– also an actress and women’s advocate –we are living so close to this reality that it is hard to see, let alone change. MISS REPRESENTATION turns its laser focus on this problem “hiding in plain sight,” and through an accumulation of data and interviews, reveals the extent of the powerlessness of women in American society. MISS REPRESENTATION opens with montages of women portrayed by the mainstream media as sexualized, infantile objects of beauty.  The movie goes on to illuminate how this diminished view of women trivializes them in their own eyes, as well as in the eyes of a culture ready to dismiss women as ill-suited to positions of power. The problem is perpetuated when young women are deprived of female role models; if young women never see women as leaders, they are less likely to aim for those positions, and realize their full potential.

The film is packed with statistics: “The US is 90th in the world for women in national legislatures; women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream
media; and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.” A few criticisms—these statistics should be contextualized for greater clarity; statistics can be notoriously misrepresented. Also, the “eating disorder” connection is too facile; these disorders are varied and complex, and may be rooted in an assortment of interconnected physiological and social conditions. As such, their causes may exceed the scope of this film.
But there is more than enough evidence here to make a compelling case for the ways in which women are rendered powerless. MISS REPRESENTATION –a clever title that cuts many ways–is quickly-paced, and packed with eye-opening examples that compel us to watch. Condoleezza Rice, Katie Couric, Rachel
Maddow, Pat Mitchell, Gloria Steinem, and Rosario Dawson all weigh in, but it’s the stories told by the teenage girls in this film, and what they are up against
when they take on the world– that will get under your skin.

As one of my friends said to me after seeing the film, “How did we let it get this far?” Indeed. I remember being a serious young woman of 18, in college, hearing about “women’s lib,” and wondering, “Why do we need that? I can do anything I want.” Now, as a “career” woman of nearly 60, I see the subtle, corrosive effects of systemic sexism– and ageism, much harder on women than men. As I move forward, I keep looking for the “old girls network”—and there isn’t one. Still. But there is power in knowing, and films like MISS REPRESENTATION wake us up, light the way, and support us on the journey which is far from over. Onward.

You can also find my review of this film and my recommendations for great live music around New England in the upcoming issue of EXHALE due out April 2!