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Interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom
and Insights from Miss Representation Participants

Featuring an interview with Writer/Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom and exclusive remarks from Barbara J. Berg, M. Gigi Durham, Caroline Heldman, Jean Kilbourne, Jennifer Lawless, Nancy Pelosi, Jennifer L. Pozner and Marie Wilson

Portions of the following appeared in the article "Miss Representation" Poised to Advance a Media Movement at The Women's Media Center.

Interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, writer and director, Miss Representation

Marianne Schnall: What is the message you are most hoping to get out with this film?

Jennifer Siebel Newsom: I'm hoping that we can start the discussion, and actually the discussion turns into action around valuing women in our culture. And that's huge. Because we don't value women, we don't value motherhood. If we valued women and motherhood, we would see more women in leadership. We'd actually allow women, not only to sit at the table, 50% representative of our population - or 51+%. But we would actually let their voices be heard. And we would see more women in leadership, across the board - not only in government, but in the private sector. And at the end of the day, I think once we start valuing women, and valuing the feminine, you're going to see a huge cultural transformation. So that's really my goal.

MS: This whole topic of the media's portrayal of women can feel very abstract. How do you view its tangible implications for what's happening in the world right now?

JSN: Well, the media is this huge pedagogical force of communication - it's dictating our cultural values and our gender norms. And it's doing it in such a way that it's communicating to us that a woman's value is limited, and that her value lies in her youth, her beauty and her sexuality. You and I know that's not true. But what unfortunately happens is girls and boys buy into this belief system, this construct, and then boys continue to perpetuate it, by objectifying women and not valuing women or giving them the seat at the table, or making sure that they're fully represented. And that's ultimately, at the end of the day, we're going to have a better media system, we'll have a healthier culture, and we'll have a culturally-healthier nation once we have women represented 50%, or 51+%, and speaking their minds, and telling their stories. And I think then corporate America and everything will follow suit. And I think that this is so huge that it will impact the environment, health care, education - I just think it's the solution to so many of our problems in this country.

MS: It is amazing the people you got access to for this film - did you find that people were really eager to talk about this topic? What was your experience in making the film in terms of the response?

JSN: You know what's really interesting is that not only did the interviewees really enjoy speaking, but I had a crew that was comprised of both men and women, and most of the gaffers and the sound crew ended up being men - those were the people that were available. And they would come to me afterwards and say, "Oh, my gosh - thank you so much. I learned so much - these women are so amazing, and this conversation makes me want to be a better father, this conversation makes me want to be a better man." I just feel like this dialogue - and really, it's sort of been the elephant in the room - but if we could just sort of get to the truth and the root of there's a huge gender gap in our country, and the media is - whether it's wittingly or unwittingly - perpetuating it, and women's voices need to be heard. And women need to be treated as equal. And I think once we have that, I will be so excited to see what happens in this country once we really achieve parity.

MS: I thought it was great that there were a lot of men that were in this film. At the web site I run Feminist.com, we're very aware of the need to include men as allies - to stop seeing these types of things as "women's issues". Was that important to you?

JSN: Yes, it was so critical to me. Just as we all come from a woman, we all come from a man as well, and we all have a man in our life that we care about. I just gave birth to a son and I'm particularly concerned about the culture that he's being raised in, and the kind of man he's going to be. And for me, you know, my husband [Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom] has been a big champion of human rights in general, and I would say it sort of fits with both us - this is about equality across the board. In other words, it's not a "women's" movement, it's kind of a human rights movement that we are really embarking on, and that's for me why we needed to interview men. I think in some regards men are more enraged - fathers of daughters are more enraged right now, and more concerned about the future for their daughters. And so I think we're going to start to see more and more men speak up and out against this.

And so many men, including my husband, will say that women are better managers or -- this is interesting, the research has come out recently to prove that the more diversity and more women you have in leadership, both in government and business, the greater the productivity, the creativity and the bottom line. And that's a fact. And I don't know why in this country we're not recognizing the value in that, but that's the truth. So if that's the truth, then we need to get women into the pipelines.

MS: One of the things I think is important about this film is that it's not just about delivering bad news, its viewers are offered concrete solutions and hope, that there's a huge action campaign as part of this.

JSN: Yes - we didn't want to reinvent the wheel - we're just doing our little piece in this huge complex web that is challenging women's representation and looking for parity in our culture. But what we've launched is MissRepresentation.org, and basically we're encouraging people to take the pledge. If you go to missrepresentation.org, take the pledge, join the movement, join the campaign. And there's little things that we can do individually, every day, to start to create not only dialogue, but action, simple steps to actually influence cultural change. And then there's everything from getting the film into educational institutions across the country, through ro*co films, our education distributor, we have K-12 and then university level, age-appropriate modules, video modules available with the curriculum and everything. We're also talking to corporations about best practices to empower women, not only internally, but when looking at who their advertising partners are and who their media partners are, and how they're portraying gender in those.

So we're tackling it at all levels and we're also going to do some FCC government and Congressional screenings later in the fall. So I'm really excited - I think we're just going to hit it from all angles.

MS: What would you most want to say to people, to leave people with?

JSN: I want people to recognize their own unique power. I want women to remember that we are 86% of consumers, and so we have a choice. We don't have to consume that TV show, we don't have to consume that tabloid magazine. We need to support good media, healthy media, and this is just beginning I think of a revolution! And a re-balancing of what has been an imbalance in our country.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Writer | Director | Producer Miss Representation
Jennifer graduated with honors from both Stanford University and Stanford Business School. She worked overseas for Conservation International, a global environmental organization, where her primary focus was providing micro-enterprise opportunities to women. Upon graduation from business school, she moved to Los Angeles where she performed in numerous films and TV shows. Jennifer founded Girls Club Entertainment to develop and produce independent films that empower women. She and her husband, California's Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, have a young daughter, Montana, and a son, Hunter.

* * *

In alphabetical order: Barbara J. Berg, M. Gigi Durham, Caroline Heldman, Jean Kilbourne, Jennifer Lawless, Nancy Pelosi, Jennifer L. Pozner, Marie Wilson

Barbara J. Berg, PhD
Historian
Author, Sexism in America

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
BB:
The media stereotypes, hypersexualizes and grossly under-represents girls and women. This is true in a range of industries--advertising, news broadcast, movies and television. Women are generally not valued to their accomplishments or achievements but for their youth and appearance. As I wrote in my recent book Sexism in America, Popular culture is our shared social reality, communicating stories, images and ideas about who we are and how we should feel, think, and act. It powerfully reflects the most salient features of our society. But the images women see of themselves are as distorted as those in "funhouse mirrors."

Women make up 51% of the population yet only 17% of Congress and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are largely still underrepresented in the political sphere, executive levels of business and media as well as in the boardroom. What do you see as the root cause of this imbalance and what role, if any, does media play?
BB:
This is a complicated question for which there is no quick answer. Since 9/11 there has been a noticeable pushback against women's rights and opportunities in America. And, of course, the poor economy has also contributed to this trend. The concentration and consolidation of the media into super monopolies and the fact the women own less than 5 percent of commercial broadcast TV stations have all added to the marginalization of women in the political sphere. Women who do run see themselves characterized in the worst way, demeaned and diminished.

What do you believe are some of the most important changes that need to happen for women and girls in America?
BB:
We need more leadership training programs, more emphasis on teaching young women their history in schools, more access to positions of authority in government and in the media, a real pitch to stop the media from showing women as competitors and rivals and show them instead as friends and supporters. Women must mentor younger women and girls in every way possible to enhance their self esteem and to create positive identities for themselves that are not reflected in the media.

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
BB:
Films like Miss Representation can make a huge impact by clearly identifying the problem, exposing all its components and working for media literacy in the schools and population at large.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
BB:
I've spent my whole professional life working on behalf of women and girls often feeling despondent about our future. Miss Representation and all the women I've met connected to it give me a great deal of hope. I'll be happy to promote the film however I can.

* * *

M. Gigi Durham, PhD
Author, The Lolita Effect
Associate Professor of Journalism
University of Iowa

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
MD:
In my view, representations of women have regressed so much one would think feminism had never happened. NBC's new show The Playboy Club springs to mind, as well as the many mindless cable programs featuring walking Barbie dolls like the Kardashians and the so-called "real housewives." In these shows, women's intelligence and social consciousness are certainly not highlighted; nor are women's artistic, literary, civic, or political contributions featured in any way. Media representations of women are pretty much focused on "hotness" -- and a narrowly defined concept of it, at that. Women in the media are so stereotyped and one-dimensional they may as well be plastic figurines. For girls growing up in this media culture, it's a terrible message: that women are only valued for their looks, and only then if their looks conform to some ideal constructed by the corporate media purely for profit. This is all happening at a time when women still hold little political or economic power, are sorely underrepresented in fields like science and engineering, and are victims of violence in epidemic proportions -- and these media representations aren't helping to change any of that.

What do you believe are some of the most important changes that need to happen for women and girls in America?
MD:
So much needs to change socially: women need to be represented in all spheres of social and economic life, violence against women needs to be recognized as a pressing issue, women need equal access to health care, to education, to opportunity. We pay a lot of lip service to those ideas in this country, but the statistics show a really bleak picture: we lag behind most other industrialized nations on all those fronts. We need to see real-world action on those issues. And we really need progressive, thoughtful, diverse representations of women in the media to help change the gender ideologies that hold women back.

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
MD:
Miss Representation, and other films like it, can bring these issues to the surface, ensuring that we confront them and engage in public discourse about them. I think the media can be powerful tools for pro-social change, and Miss Representation is a film that can catalyze women and men to first, think more critically about the media environment, and second, work on ways to change not only systems of representation but the world they live in.

* * *

Caroline Heldman, PhD
Associate Professor of Political Science
Occidental College

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
CH:
Girls and women are vastly underrepresented in roles in entertainment media, and when they do appear, they are usually sidekicks and sexual props for male characters. The rare female protagonist is almost always highly sexualized in a way that reminds viewers that women should exist for male (viewing) pleasure.

Entertainment media almost exclusively tell stories about men's lives, and on the rare occasion they tell stories about women's lives, these stories typically revolve around romance and "getting a man," and are accorded less importance as "chick flicks." Little girls get the message that their lives and interests are not valued by broader society, and that their primary goal should be to get male attention. These messages are incredibly damaging in their effect on girls' self-esteem, body image, ambition, and cognitive functioning.

Few women are involved in the production of entertainment media, so it's not surprising that women are virtually erased and portrayed in objectifying, secondary roles in this medium that is so influential in shaping societal norms.

Women make up 51% of the population yet only 17% of Congress and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are largely still underrepresented in the political sphere, executive levels of business and media as well as in the boardroom. What do you see as the root cause of this imbalance and what role, if any, does media play?
CH:
The root cause of the vast under representation of women in positions of power is patriarchy -- the assumption that men are "natural" leaders and the higher value placed on their lives and activities. Patriarchy is apparent in gender gaps in party recruitment and grooming of political candidates; discrimination in corporate hiring, promotion, and compensation; girls being raised to think of "ambition" and "power" as dirty words; openly sexist media coverage of female leaders defining them as less capable "tokens"; and the more subtly sexist but highly damaging messages from entertainment media.

Media are highly influential in creating and communicating societal norms about proper roles and behaviors for men and women. If more women were involved in the production of entertainment and news media, we would see more women on screen and better roles portraying women as powerful subjects instead of passive sexual objects.

More images and more diverse images of women in media would lead to a revolution of identity and leadership if millions of little girls grew up thinking of themselves as fully capable, ambitious human beings instead of bodies to be worked on in order to get validation through male attention.

What do you believe are some of the most important changes that need to happen for women and girls in America?
CH:
Because Americans are now bombarded by thousands of images on a daily basis, marketers cut through the information clutter by amping up the shock value with more sexually objectifying and violent content. This has led to increased acceptance and use of violence among boys and heightened body hatred issues with girls. The national epidemics of violent masculinity and self-hating femininity can only be addressed if we go after the source of the problem: shock media/marketing.

Consumer activism targeting offensive marketing is an effective way to interrupt these damaging media messages. The recent campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch to halt the sale of g-string underwear to female toddlers is one example of this success of this tactic. Another example is the effective campaign against JC Penney to stop sales of the shirt, "I'm too cute to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me." The social media age makes these sorts of campaigns quite effective.

Beyond targeting those who produce damaging media messages, it's important to work with young people on media literacy so they can discern and reject these messages.

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
CH:
A film like Miss Representation is the first crucial step is identifying the problem of damaging media images and their origins and consequences. It is a one-film public information campaign that will hopefully ignite action across the nation that will change media content and eventually the landscape of leadership in the U.S.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
CH:
The Miss Representation team is amazing!

* * *

Jean Kilbourne
Filmmaker, Killing Us Softly
Author & Senior Scholar
Wellesley Centers for Women

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
JK:
I've been studying the portrayal of women in the media since the late 1960s, so I am often asked this question. In many ways, the portrayal has never been worse. Of course, women are far more often shown in professional positions than before, but the tyranny of the ideal image of beauty (made so much worse by Photoshop), the obsession with thinness, the sexualization of girls, and images of violence against women are far worse than ever before. I made the first version of my film "Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women" in 1979 and raised all these issues. The updates (in 1987, 2000, and 2010) track the lack of progress.

Women make up 51% of the population yet only 17% of Congress and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are largely still underrepresented in the political sphere, executive levels of business and media as well as in the boardroom. What do you see as the root cause of this imbalance and what role, if any, does media play?
JK:
Of course, I think that media play a huge role in this imbalance. As you say in the promotions for your film, "You can't be what you can't see." Not only are girls deprived of positive images, but also they are encouraged to spend a huge amount of their time and psychic energy on worrying about their bodies and their sex appeal. I would say that sexism is the root cause of this imbalance and that the media promotes sexism more persuasively and pervasively than any other aspect of our society. The media also promote the double bind for women and girls -- the requirement to be sexy but virginal, strong but feminine, tough but nurturing, etc.

What do you believe are some of the most important changes that need to happen for women and girls in America?
JK:
Title IX brought about a huge change and must be protected. We also should be teaching comprehensive and accurate sex education in our schools starting very early on and with an emphasis on healthy relationships as well as on sex and sexuality. We must guarantee reproductive freedom. We should have bullying prevention in the schools that recognizes that most "bullying" is really sexual harassment (girls are called sluts and boys are called fags). And, of course, I think we should be teaching media literacy in the schools as well. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn't teach media literacy --or sex education --in its schools.

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
JK:
I've personally seen the huge difference that a film can make because of the success of my "Killing Us Softly" film series. I hear all the time from people who say that it changed their lives, that they have never looked at ads again in the same way, etc. So I think that Miss Representation can make a very big difference in raising awareness, connecting the dots, and motivating people to take some action.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
JK:
Only "brava" and let me know how I can help.

* * *

Jennifer Lawless Associate Professor of Government
Director, Women & Politics Institute
American University

Rather than answer each question, I've written some broad thoughts about my research and the manner in which the media affect women's representation.

Over the course of the last few years, Richard Fox and I have surveyed and interviewed thousands of people whom we consider "eligible candidates" - highly successful individuals who occupy the professions that are most likely to precede a career in politics: law, business, education, and political activism.

Although about 50 percent of the people to whom we spoke had considered running for office, women were more than a third less likely than men to have considered a candidacy. And they were only half as likely as men to have done any of the things that usually precede a campaign - like investigating how to place their name on the ballot, or discussing running with potential donors, party or community leaders, or even mentioning the idea to family members or friends. If we focus only on the 50 percent of people who had thought about running, then women were one third less likely than men to throw their hats into the ring and enter actual races.

Study after study reveals that, when women run for office, they tend to fare at least as well as similarly situated men. There is no evidence of aggregate-level bias on Election Day, either in terms of fundraising receipts or vote totals. But our research finds that women are far less likely than men ever to make it to Election Day.

Why? Perhaps the most important barrier that tends to preclude women's candidate emergence is that they doubt their qualifications to enter the electoral arena. They just don't think that they're qualified to throw their hats into the ring. Now, it's important to emphasize that the women we interviewed are, objectively speaking, just as "qualified" as the men. They have achieved comparable levels of professional success in the fields that precede political candidacies. They are equally credentialed and educated. And there are no gender differences in levels of political knowledge or campaign experience. Yet 60 percent of men, compared to 40 percent of women, think they're qualified to run for office.

But it gets worse - not only do these women think that they're not qualified to run, but they are also more likely to let their doubts hold them back. A woman who doesn't think she is qualified to run for office has less than a 25 percent chance of even thinking about running. The average man who doesn't think he's qualified - now remember, he checked off the box on the survey that says "I'm not qualified " - still has about a 60 percent chance of contemplating throwing his hat into the ring.

So, why do women underestimate their ability to enter politics? Well, a few specific statistics shed light on this dynamic:

Women are approximately 25 percent more likely than men to judge their local and congressional elections as "highly competitive."

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to contend that it is more difficult for women to raise money for a political campaign, and only half as likely to believe that women and men face an equal chance of being elected to high level office (13 percent of women, compared to 24 percent of men).

12 percent of women state outright that they are not qualified to run for office simply because they are the "wrong" sex.

48 percent of women, compared to only 29 percent of men, report that they do not have "thick enough skin" to run for office.

Women are roughly 25 percent more likely than men to report that the invasion of privacy that comes from press coverage serves as a deterrent to running for office.

And women are 50 percent more likely than men to report that they view dealing with members of the press so negatively, that such an activity is a major deterrent to running for office.

In other words, based on the media coverage eligible women candidates see, based on the manner in which women are often treated by the press, based on the idea that the media will make navigating the campaign trail far more complex, more complicated, and more difficult for women than men, women perceive it as nearly impossible to win a race. The reality of women's Election Day successes is actually not as important as the perceptions that they can't win - perceptions that are generated and reinforced by many in the media.

I ran for Congress in Rhode Island's second congressional district in 2006. And with the exception of a few off-handed comments, the media treated me very, very well. Voters, however, had absolutely no problem articulating sexist remarks - probably because they'd seen women treated this way over time. In the early stages of the race, for example, I spent more time listening to how my voice was too high, my neckline too low, my hair too long, my stature too short, than I did about the war in Iraq, a woman's right to choose, or any of the other issues that motivated my candidacy.

Voters take cues from the media. And if voters believe that it's okay not only to evaluate female candidates using different criteria, but also that it's okay to say to the women things like - and this actually happened to me - "You're not nearly as fat in real life as you look on TV," then is it really that surprising that women doubt they have the thick skin required to enter politics? That women envision a far more competitive electoral environment than men who live in the same community?

If we want more women to run for office and more women to stay the course through Election Day, then we need to identify the sexist treatment women in politics often receive and let women know that, despite this coverage, their political success is just as likely as that of their male counterparts.

* * *

Nancy Pelosi
U.S. Representative, California
Former Speaker of the House

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
NP:
As I often advise young women, 'if you are prepared to throw a punch you also have to be willing to take a punch." It's a tough environment, but I don't want young women to be discouraged from running for office.

Women make up 51% of the population yet only 17% of Congress and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are largely still underrepresented in the political sphere, executive levels of business and media as well as in the boardroom. What do you see as the root cause of this imbalance and what role, if any, does media play?
NP:
America, as a nation, needs to make a decision that they want to see more women leading in the halls of power. But also, women have to help women: to run for higher office, to succeed in business, and to excel. There's nothing more powerful than someone who has succeeded reaching back to lift up the next generation. I hope that we will help each other make history and progress.

What do you believe are some of the most important changes that need to happen for women and girls in America?
NP:
I have always said that I see my work in politics as an extension of my role as a mother. Therefore, anytime I am asked what the three most important issues facing the Congress, I always say the same thing: our children, our children, our children. We must work on behalf of their health and education, the economic security of their families, the safety of their neighborhoods, and a world at peace.

I hope that women will lead progress on all of these issues, because every single issue is a 'women's issue:' from the security of our country, to its economy, to prosperity around the world. I hope women will bring their solutions, rooted in their unique perspective, to all the challenges we face.

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
NP:
Miss Representation gives us an opportunity to raise awareness, and then raise our voices: working together for a solution.

* * *

Jennifer L. Pozner
Founder and Executive Director
Women in Media & News
Author, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
JP:
In corporate journalism, women are misrepresented and marginalized when they aren't missing entirely as op-ed writers, front-page sources, leading anchors, and noted experts. The most popular scripted TV genre is procedural crime dramas which fetishize and glamorize rape, incest, and torture of women and children. And in reality TV, women are portrayed as stupid, bitchy, pathetic golddiggers who can never be happy without being passively chosen by any man who'll have them. Through this genre, product-placement advertisers have created a regressive, 1950s-esque world in which we're supposed to believe that women's only achievement is marriage, her only power is her beauty, and in which women of color only exist as ignorant, hypersexual, "ghetto" "hos." If you knew nothing about American women other than what you saw in "reality" TV, you'd believe the women's movement and the civil rights movement never even happened!

To find positive, challenging, critical journalism and entertainment that represents women in all their diversity, we need to turn to independent media alternatives, from GRITtv with Laura Flanders, WINGS radio and ColorLines magazine, to blogs like WIMN's Voices, Feministing, Racialicious, and The Feminist Wire, to video remixers Pop Culture Pirate and Feminist Frequency.

Women make up 51% of the population yet only 17% of Congress and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are largely still underrepresented in the political sphere, executive levels of business and media as well as in the boardroom. What do you see as the root cause of this imbalance and what role, if any, does media play?
JP:
In 1984, NBC's Tom Brokaw described vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro as a "size 6" at the Democratic National Convention. On the day Condoleezza Rice became America's first African-American female national security adviser in 2001, a front page New York Times story reported that "her dress size is between a 6 and an 8." Broadcast news outlets have called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a "bitch," "harpy," "nutcracker," "ugly," and far worse. Media outlets regularly obsess over female politicians' hair, bodies, clothing and motherhood choices, a double standard that is virtually never applied to male politicians. When journalism treats female politicians like ladies first and leaders only a distant second, the public is led to believe that women are less qualified to lead--and less electable--than their male counterparts. The roots of this double standard go beyond the content itself, to an institutional bias within the media industry.

Just six powerful, white male dominated conglomerates control the vast majority of what we read, watch, hear, see and play in newspapers, magazines, TV news and entertainment, radio, movies, commercials, billboard ads, and video games. Media consolidation and deregulation is a root cause not only of the under-representation of women's voices and the exploitation of women's bodies in contemporary media - media economics also goes to the heart of why the news is now driven by sensationalism rather than journalistic ethics, why gender, race and class issues tend to be ignored or trivialized in the press, and why powerful corporations that commit fraud are so often let off the hook by news outlets that are often financially tied to, and sometimes even owned by, those fraudulent corporations. For example, this is why we nearly never read in mainstream media about the massive drain on American solvency caused by corporate welfare, while news anchors, op-ed writers and economics reporters regular rage against supposedly "greedy" "welfare queens."

In a corporate media landscape owned by six white men, where women hold just 3% of "clout titles" and where women and people of color are virtually absent from boardrooms, is it any surprise that Americans do not get to see women leaders taken seriously in journalism or in fictionalized images of politics?

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
JP:
Viewers of "Miss Representation" have reported being shocked, enraged, enlightened and inspired. My hope is that we can mobilize that energy from awareness into action. Because while the biases exposed in the documentary are certainly enraging, they are not shocking to those of us who have been working for decades to combat sexism and racism in news and entertainment media, to and create more a diverse, critical, positive media landscape. As such, "Miss Representation" presents an extraordinary opportunity to bring the work of the feminist media activist movement into the mainstream. When viewers of "Miss Representation" leave the theater or turn off OWN, they shouldn't simply get angry--they should get active. From Women In Media & News, which I founded in 2001, to the national Media Action Grassroots Network coalition, there is a vibrant movement in America that needs their energy, support and involvement to hold corporate media accountable for damaging and inaccurate content, to improve representations of women, people of color and other marginalized communities, and to advocate fairer, more just policies regulating the media industry. There is also a strong independent media community where "Miss Representation" viewers can hear the voices and perspectives of women and people of color misrepresented, marginalized or just plain missing in the corporate media, including Ms., ColorLines, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Women's Enews, Feminist.com, World Pulse, GRITtv, WINGS, and many others.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
JP:
The last thing I say in "Miss Representation" is that "we need media literacy as much as we need to learn to read." I want viewers to know that there amazing feminist, anti-racist media literacy resources out there, from the Media Literacy Project's educational curricula and online toolkits, to Reel Grrls program to teach girls how to make their own media, to the media literacy lectures and workshops I conduct through Women In Media & News. Once "Miss Representation" sparks viewers' interest and outrage, they have many ways to learn--and do - more.

* * *

Marie Wilson
Founding President
The White House Project

What is your impression of the way media currently portrays women?
MW:
I have been working on the issue of the media portrayal of women for decades, and feel that at present it is going in two directions: As women gain more power, the clothes are more "seductive" even on the news shows, especially Fox....On the other hand, as I look at the offerings for new television shows (excluding Pan Am and The Playboy Club) I see women playing strong female leads in several very good shows: The Good Wife, NCIF, Unforgettable, Prime Suspect, Law and Order Special Victims, and a few others that are very tough but strong women characters.

More are mysteries and international crime (with the exception of The Good Wife) but it's a good start. The BBC has great female characters in new show, The Hour. With TV News and morning shows, women becoming "normal" this helps.

Women make up 51% of the population yet only 17% of Congress and 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women are largely still underrepresented in the political sphere, executive levels of business and media as well as in the boardroom. What do you see as the root cause of this imbalance and what role, if any, does media play?
MW:
As I told Jennifer when she started this, as Marion Wright Edelman always says, "You can't be what you can't see," so we went for a show ("Commander in Chief") which we got but it lasted too short a time. I think the way women are portrayed on television dramas, sitcoms and other shows is powerful in changing the perception of women, how they are talked with and about on the news shows matters enormously. But the sexy betrayals are still out there, and again, as women gain more power, they do proliferate and get worse...again you have both happening.

But having worked on "root causes" for the last decade...they are myriad. The cultural role of women in the U.S. is wife and mother...irrespective of the mass entrance of women in the workforce. There hasn't been a national childcare policy in twenty years. Male leaders are still "uncomfortable" with women. Getting to the top in corporations involves sponsorship, and that's not as easy for women to come by. The parties (even the dems) are not good at recruiting women. Our way of funding candidates is stacked against women. The hours of careers like law make it hard for women to get anywhere (billable hours is a killer). Sex still sells. Women are still responsible for child care in two thirds to three quarters of homes. The economy...there are roots and roots.

Television and movies, docs and drama can play a powerful role, and are beginning to...some of us (like you) have been saying this for so long...but it is being heard and social media has a role to play as well.

What do you believe are some of the most important changes that need to happen for women and girls in America?
MW:
The most important thing that can happen for women and girls in the U.S. is just that women who support the policies and programs that allow for women to live fairly and justly have to be in half the power positions. Period Exclamation...we've tried everything else.

How can a film like Miss Representation make a difference?
MW:
Just what it is doing. Raising more awareness of the powerful role that media plays in how it depicts the diversity of women and asking women to watch and support media that hits the mark, and NOT SUPPORT what does not.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
MW:
You know Marianne, I have been at this for so long, and it has taken so long for even our colleagues to get it, that I have to continually remind myself of how long these kinds of changes take, and celebrate that they are at least happening. And I think the film is terrific.

* * *

Portions of the above appeared in the article "Miss Representation" Poised to Advance a Media Movement at The Women's Media Center.

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.


For more information, visit MissRepresentation.org.

Miss Representation will premiere on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) on October 20, 2011 @ 9pm EST/MST/PST (8pm Central). Directly following the premiere of the documentary, there will be a one-hour special with Rosie O'Donnell in which Jennifer Siebel Newsom and guests will engage in a discussion to highlight the call to action regarding the messages about women within the film. Says Rosie about Miss Representation: "The truth with how the media deals with females...a must see for all women - aged 8-88."


Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer. She is also the founder and Executive Director of Feminist.com and cofounder of EcoMall.com, a website promoting environmentally-friendly living. Marianne has worked for many media outlets and publications. Her interviews with well-known individuals appear at Feminist.com as well as in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style, The Huffington Post, the Women's Media Center, and many others.

Marianne's new book based on her interviews, Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice came out in November 2010. Through her writings, interviews, and websites, Marianne strives to raise awareness and inspire activism around important issues and causes. For more information, visit www.marianneschnall.com and www.daringtobeourselves.com.

 

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