Miss Representation

Last night, a group of girls and I watched the OWN premiere of Miss Representation, a documentary that explores the media’s portrayal of women in power. Studying in D.C., it appeared particularly applicable to our lives. For months, I had heard plenty about the build up to the documentary—especially when Oprah purchased the rights—but hadn’t really considered watching it. In the end, I was thrilled I did.

We like the think that women enjoy the same status as men in every arena. Unfortunately though, women still lag behind, particularly in politics. Part of this is due to the media’s portrayal of women. Women are judged to a greater extent on appearance. News clips depicted men talking about how “hot” Sarah Palin looked in a hat, but ignoring anything she had to say. Female newscasters like Katie Couric have their appearance dissected more than their content. A woman asserting herself politically, like Hillary Clinton, is labeled a “bitch.” Nancy Pelosi recounted a story from when she first ran for office. Her youngest child was a senior in high school. A journalist asked who would look after her children.

We compliment young girls on their appearance before we hear what they have to say. The harshest judges of a woman’s appearance are often other women. We base our judgments on surface first, then substance.

In a group of ten year olds, the percentage that dreams of becoming president is evenly split between males and females. By the time a group of fifteen year olds is asked, the percentage is overwhelmingly male.

At ten years old, I wanted to be the first female president of the United States. After several years, I decided against it. This wasn’t the result of gender bias, just the realization that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.

Growing up, I was told that I could be whoever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do. I valued intelligence above appearance. At times, I tried too hard to prove myself. In elementary school, I insisted on playing sports with all the boys, just to show that I could. In high school, I competed with them academically. I became obsessed with beating them, which may say more about my competitive nature than anything else.

The message of the documentary could seem bleak at times. The only solution seems to be to change societal preconceptions about women, an area where great advances have been made in the last forty years. Watching the documentary with a group of Stanford girls active and engaged in politics in Washington, D.C., my worries subsided much more quickly than they would have otherwise.

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