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How to keep women from being “Miss Represented”

March 20, 2012

by Shandi Hanna

12:45 am.

I tried to go sleep but I couldn’t stop my mind from racing, so I finally gave in, got up and started writing.  I had the same problem a few nights ago, after I spent my weekend at the New Leaders Council Training Institute, and topped it off with a question and answer session for Rosetta Thurman’s Blogging School.  It’s information overload.  I haven’t yet had the time to fully process the experience I had tonight and the information I gained.

Tonight I attended a free screening of the movie Miss Representation sponsored by the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center at Brown University, which was brought to my attention through my involvement with RI NOW.  This movie depicts how in our society, media plays a large part in molding social norms, but our media presents a very limited portrayal of girls and women, and how that relates to societal issues that women face.  Women are grossly under-represented in most positions of power and influence in America, and are often victims of violence, and these facts have a negative effect on girls and women in many ways.  This movie used real life examples from various types of media sources and commentary from a number of very insightful politicians, activists, entertainers and young women and men.  Following the movie, many of the viewers stayed in the hall to have a very interesting and honest discussion about the movie, their reaction to it, and how it relates to their own experiences.

While it was hard to swallow some of the statistics they were showing about women, and just as hard to watch some of the examples they were showing to make their points, I left the showing more excited than frustrated, because it opened me up to learning some of the why’s behind what is happening, what the effects are, and how we can change it.  Here are some of ways that Miss Representation inspired me to address this issue, and some ways that you can as well:

1)     I will boycott media that doesn’t fairly represent women, or that represents them in a derogatory way.  I will admit to falling into the “reality” show trap every now and again, thinking that it’s no big deal to watch these ridiculous shows that portray women negatively.  But it is a big deal because it perpetuates the cycle.  But I’m declaring from now on I will not waste my time watching “reality” television unless it’s the actual reality of the discovery channel (something my husband will be happy to hold me accountable for).  You can do this too. Let’s be purposeful in making sure that the media we consume is aligned with our personal values.

2)     I will strive to attain leadership roles in my professional life and in my community.  I will position myself so that I can have my voice be heard, encourage women to stand up for themselves, and make some concrete changes in the way women are seen and treated in society.  If you aren’t comfortable taking these roles, publicize them to the amazing women that you know and help them attain leadership positions.

3)      I will increasingly become more of an advocate of gender equity (equal opportunities for men and women) and will pay more attention so I know what is happening with these issues at the federal level as well as the local level.  And I will be sure to point out the negative or otherwise harmful stereotypes we see about men and women, and start conversations about them, especially with youth.  If we can’t control what’s being put out there then at least we can try to change how it’s being understood.   I challenge you to start these same conversations.

4)     I will use social media and blogs to increase the presence of women in different mediums and to help show real women in a positive way, and document the important work we do.  Let’s take advantage of these opportunities to support policy that will benefit girls and women and make us better able to live fulfilled lives.  Blogging is a great way to do this, but if that’s not your style, you can still use social media (or good ole’ word of mouth) to talk about the great work you see women doing and promote it to others.

5)     Finally, and maybe most importantly, I will seek out and intentionally support women, both in everyday roles and those in the more visible ones.  We stand stronger together and we need to band together and not let society tear us apart.  Success looks different to every person, and there’s plenty to be shared by everybody, so let’s help each other get there.  That being said I pledge to encourage other women to follow their dreams, and support them through the process, while empowering myself to follow my own.

I’m grateful that I had a chance to watch this movie, and I’m even more thankful to the great women who were responsible for getting this movie made and distributed.  It makes me happy to see that there are so many women out there who recognize the problems with media and overall gender inequity in our society, and are willing to fight back against it.  I’m inspired by their insight and their work and I look forward to a world where there is equity of opportunity for women and for every other minority group.  If we keep educating ourselves, spreading the message, and taking little steps every day to make changes, that world will not be too far away.

To learn about other ways that you can advocate for women or find a screening of this movie, please check out their website at, or become a member of RI NOW at and join the movement.  If you’re not ready to become a member yet, feel free to like the RI NOW Facebook page and join the RI NOW listserv (sign up at in order to stay informed and be able to help elect more female leaders.  For more information about this writer or to read more of her posts, check out her personal blog at

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura Costa permalink
    March 21, 2012 11:01 am

    My subconscious finally kicked up what it was I wanted to say at the film regarding the supposed “fact” that women watch a lot of TV, but men 18-34 don’t. They claim this explains why there’s so much objectification of and violence against women on TV, the assumption, of course, being that we all know that this is what young men want to see. (I take umbrage with that, but it’s really a different topic.)

    Since it is a fact that women have 80% of the buying power in the US, it doesn’t make sense that they would show content aimed at young men who aren’t watching TV, instead of this huge percentage of customers who are. You advertise to your market, you don’t offend them and make them go elsewhere. The exploitation of women on TV solely to make money makes no sense.

    The content of TV shows isn’t just about drawing the viewers whom your advertisers want to market to so they can buy your crap. Who owns the corporations who market the crap? Rich, white, Republican men. And what do rich, white Republican men have that they are so afraid to lose (other than their hair)? Yep, power. I believe that the exploitation of women that is epidemic on TV and other media isn’t just about making money, it’s about furthering the political and social goals of RWR men. Keeping that kind of power and wealth that concentrated takes a lot of work and strategy. What better way to keep power from half the population at one time than by degrading them in the eyes of society – including themselves. Same motives as the “war on women” we’re now experiencing. RWR men are afraid and they’re doing something about it. Not that they haven’t always, but because of the economy and the numbers of people living in poverty, they’re extra scared right now.

    I could see some people saying this sounds like a conspiracy theory. Well, the way I see it, if the exploitation of women in the media was really only about pleasing advertisers and selling products to 80% of consumers, we’d see a lot fewer half-dressed women with breast implants being mistreated by men and a lot more of shirtless Rob Lowe being treated really well by women.

    But that last part may just be me.

    • March 21, 2012 6:49 pm

      Great insight Laura! Thank you for bringing up another aspect of this issue. There was so much to take from this movie that there’s no way I could touch on it all in one post. I feel like we could have a series of posts on reactions others have had to this movie, because it seems to spark a different revelation in anyone who watches it.

      “What do rich, white Republican men have that they are so afraid to lose (other than their hair)?”

      You crack me up!

  2. March 20, 2012 8:29 am

    Awesome post, Shandi! This film is a must-see. It will change how you look at the world.

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