Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Documentary takes aim at ‘Miss Representation’

Girls on the Run brings film on women and media to Hailey


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

    Did you notice anything sexist about the commercials during the Super Bowl? The creators and organization behind “Miss Representation,” a documentary about women in the media, did.
    Men drove fast cars, blew stuff up and got caught handling women’s lingerie in Laundromats; women sensually sank their teeth into giant hamburgers, made out with nerdy programmers and were kissed by boys with something to prove and fondled while sleeping during one-night stands when not cavorting around stripper poles.
    In other words, when it came to women, only sex sold. Girls on the Run Executive Director Mary Fauth said this portrayal of women is exactly the kind of image her organization is trying to fight. For that reason, she and a committee of dedicated women, along with a number of local organizations, strove to bring a screening of “Miss Representation” to the Community Campus in Hailey.
    The documentary was created by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. It features women in media, such as comedienne/actress Margaret Cho, as well as women who have held positions of global influence such as Condoleeza Rice.
    In advance of the movie’s screening at 6 p.m. tonight at the Community Campus, Fauth and Girls on the Run board members Rebecca Rusch, a world champion mountain bike racer, naturopathic physician Jody Stanislaw and Angela Burrell answered a few questions on the documentary’s message.
 
IME: There is a part in the trailer where one of the experts says, “As a culture, women are brought up to be fundamentally insecure.” How does that impact young women as they learn how they fit into the world?
Fauth: Value is so often placed in how girls look on the outside rather than what is on the inside.  When they don’t see how they can fit into the most commonly seen version of beauty, vying for male attention, and their peer group surrounding them is reinforcing that, then they are inevitably left with sense of lacking and insecurity.
 
IME: Do you have a personal experience, something that really struck you as an example of what Margaret Cho called the media “treating women like s---”?
Stanislaw: I spent my entire teens and into my 20s being obsessed with truly believing I was supposed to look like the women on the covers of all the ‘healthy’ magazines like Shape, etc. I absolutely was convinced that I was supposed to look like that and wasted years hating my body.
Rusch: I also spent most of my high school and college years thinking I was ugly and fat, despite having a supportive family and no reason to believe those things. We are brainwashed by what we see on magazine covers and on TV without even knowing it and thinking those are “normal” images.  It wasn’t until my high school years as an athlete where I started seeing female Olympians on TV and I started to see a more real picture.  I found my role models through sports instead of the Barbie doll images in the mainstream media.  
 
IME: There is an argument that showing women as sexual objects actually gives them a sort of power. Do you agree? If it is true, can that type of power backfire and how?
Stanislaw: No, I don’t believe women portrayed as sexual objects gives them any substantial power. It’s displaying them as an object without any focus on who they are as a person. If we are looking for power to make men want to take our clothes off, well then, yes, that is a sort of power.
Burrell: I don’t think that is the kind of power that women want. I think women want to be respected and treated fairly regardless of how they look. Of course, there are beautiful women out there who use their looks to get what they want. But at the end of the day, can one be truly satisfied knowing that they got what they wanted not because they worked hard and are smart but because they were fortunate enough to be blessed with good looks? And what about all the women who aren’t so fortunate?
 
IME: “Miss Representation” had a lot of information on its website about the Super Bowl commercials that I didn’t even notice while watching—like how demeaning many of those commercials were to women. How insidious are messages in the media about women?
Burrell: The messages are certainly damaging by placing value in the way a woman looks, but they aren’t at all subtle anymore. That is what is so horrific about it to me. It has become so commonplace to see a woman in a bikini selling a hamburger that most people don’t even think about how ridiculous that is.

IME: What is the most striking part of this film for you?
Fauth: Each time I watch this film something new jumps out at me. Now that I’ve seen it a number of times, I’m shocked at even the ways I’m pretty desensitized to the images I see all around me. And the statistics that they present are hard to ignore and tell more about the environment our girls are operating in.  The fact that 38 percent of teenage girls are starving themselves to lose weight, and 48 percent want to be as skinny as models is pretty striking to me.
 
IME: Are enough women writing their own stories, as urged by the documentary? What does that mean to you?
Rusch: If we wait for someone to write our own story, it won’t happen. I’ve chosen the difficult road and uncharted territory in my career because that’s where my passion was. There was not a clear path for me to pursue my goals, so I floundered and plowed my way through without much guidance. It would have been easier if I had examples and role models of women before me. As Marie Wilson says in the trailer, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” We need to all keep writing our own story so that women and girls coming after us can see what is possible and dream bigger.


Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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