Miss Representation

The representation of women and girls in the media was the focus of a “dinner and a movie” fundraising event sponsored by the Scotts Valley Educational Foundation and the 1440 Foundation last week, raising money for a girl’s leadership club at Scotts Valley High School. The event, attended by approximately 200 people, was also aimed at raising awareness of how limited and sexist the portrayal of women and girls has generally been in the mainstream media. 

The documentary film Miss Representation (2011) is a powerful indictment of the way women are represented in the media, especially by advertisers- with women defined primarily by a base appeal to sex and submission, mostly in roles and in stereotypes created by the men who own, write and produce video media.

The subtitle of the film, “You can't be what you can't see,” emphasizes the lack of positive, intelligent and accomplished women role models that televised media has generally failed to provide for young women to admire and aspire to.

Before the film was shown, Katey Kennedy, lead for the 1440 Foundation’s communications and administration, had a few words about the mission of the 1440 Multiversity and it’s interaction with community.

“We’re dedicated to creating more energy behind having these really difficult conversations that are so necessary today…and we’re pleased to provide a space in the community for these meaningful and insightful conversations,” Kennedy said.

Patricia Timm, a corporate lawyer for more than 20 years, stated her mission was simple in helping organize the event, “To inspire girls and women from all over to reach their full and highest potential… as well as my personal desire that the next generation of women behind me will have a smoother path than I did,” Timm said.

Timm spoke about the great strides that have been made in recent decades in terms of the educational achievement of women, but this has come without a corresponding equality of women in leadership positions. Timm spoke about the “unconscious bias” against women in leadership roles, and that televised media has a great deal of influence in maintaining this unconscious bias, and the status quo of women being mostly defined and judged by their looks, their youth and their sex appeal.

Tanya Krause, Superintendent of Scotts Valley School District, spoke in support for the girl’s leadership club at the Scotts Valley High School, and emphasized that limited stereotypes and role models for girls is not a new issue, and that she hoped members of the audience would take away something they could actually do to change the conversation in ways that will promote more women in leadership roles.

After the film, Timm and Krause led a community discussion that included a question if, in light of recent sexual harassment scandals and the “Me Too” movement,  anything has really changed since the documentary was made in 2011. The overall response was that while a renewed awareness of sexual harassment in the work place has been positive, the percentages of women in Congress and corporate leadership roles has yet to show significant progress since the film was made.  

“Just noticing the subtle differences in the way women and girls are treated, and saying something about it, and having these hard conversations around the dinner table, can go a long way in clarifying the opportunities women and girls should have,” Krause said. 

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