By Alicia Liu (Product Manager/Mobile Developer, Select Start) You’re probably frustrated by Stop SOPA Day today, your work is going slow because Wikipedia is blacked out, and you can’t amuse yourself because Reddit is out too, and you’ve already signed Google’s petition, what’s left to do? You can read about another reason to despise the big media companies (if trying to censor the Internet wasn’t reason enough).
I finally watched the Sundance documentary Miss Representation. Everyone should watch this. Girls, boys, women, and men. Here is the trailer:
Miss Representation covers a wide range of cultural issues focused on mass media’s pervasive objectification of girls and women, the widespread under-representation and outright dismissal of women leaders in the media, and mass media’s societal impact on both women and men.
This documentary is a sobering reminder of just how powerful and pervasive media is, and its chilling effects on girls’ and women’s sense of self-worth, and on what men are taught to value in women. Basically, that as a woman, it doesn’t matter what you have accomplished, you will be judged on your appearance first and foremost. If you’re not “beautiful”, you will be derided and ignored, and if you are, you will be objectified and dismissed. And what’s considered beautiful is the media’s very narrow definition lifted from a shallow teenage male fantasy.
Beyond just socializing girls from a young age that only their looks matter, the effects of prevalent sexual and violent imagery in the media are profound. The stats of the increasing percentage of women with eating disorders and who suffer from sexual violence in America are sobering on their own, but combined with how many very young girls are now included in these numbers, it is truly shocking.
We are so media-saturated that it’s difficult to distance oneself from the non-stop bombardment of how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to like, and what we’re supposed to want to be. So I don’t blame people who don’t think it’s a problem that women only hold 17% of seats in the House of Representatives (the US is 90th in the world when it comes to women in national legislatures), 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs or - a topic dear to me - less than 10% in fields like computer science and most disciplines of engineering.
Even a little blog like mine attracts comments like this: “Why do you “obviously want to see more women in tech and entrepreneurship”? Do you also “obviously want to see more women in prison or homeless”?”
The skeptics say it’s not a problem because this isn’t what women actually want. Women don’t actually want to lead, don’t want to be CEO, don’t want to learn math/science/technology, etc. Women are just more suited to being nurses, vets, and working in beauty salons, or how about just staying at home. But stop and ask yourself is it learned behavior?
The documentary goes into more depth on the history of advertising-sponsored TV shows that were designed to show that there was only one role for the happy woman - the stay-at-home mom. But a particularly telling quote from the movie is that the number of girls and boys who want to be President of the United States is the same at the age of 7 (a whopping 30%!), but sadly for girls, this number rapidly diminishes to almost nothing by the time they reach 15.
What’s really sad is that there have been so many gains made by women everywhere you look, in education, in pay, in management, and so many amazing women doing amazing things, and yet the media is bent on perpetuating this fun-house mirror image of the world, where women’s boobs and ass get enlarged and the brain shrunk.
You can’t be what you can’t see.
Watch the film, visit MissRepresentation.org to learn more about media literacy, and be a role model to girls and women.
Side Note: I will be mentoring a team of high school girls as part of the Technovation Challenge over the next 9 weeks to build a mobile app. It’s a great way to be a role model for girls at a crucial age, and I encourage more women to get involved!
Be the change you want to see.
This post was originally posted at Alicia Liu's blog.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger:Alicia Liu is Product Manager and Mobile Developer at Select Start. Alicia is a front-end web and iOS developer. Alicia blogs about startups, web dev, travel, and eating. She holds a BAsc in Computer Engineering from the University of Waterloo. Follow her on Twitter at @aliciatweet.