There is so so much to say when you talk about how women are represented in our culture. This 90 minute documentary covers a variety of topics connected thematically by how women are seen, heard and manipulated in the media, and really each topic could be its own movie. However, the film does an excellent job showing us how each idea is connected by a huge web of bias and power, and this is a major step in understanding how deep the rabbit hole goes. And it’s not just about the big flashy issues like abortion or Beyonce or equal pay (although if you are not furious that women today right now make 77 cents on the dollar of men then you need a serious jolt), it’s more insidious than that. They are targeting all women, across all races and classes, and they are doing it in subtle, inconspicuous ways. And it’s affecting women, and our girls, in both mundane and profound ways, shaping our thoughts and actions when we wake up and while we are at school or at work and when we interact with other women, and with men, and the thoughts we think about ourselves and others. There were two topics that spoke to me personally, that stood out just a little more than the other also super important points. Honestly, I’d love to discuss the whole freakin’ thing in lots of detail providing my own examples but ain’t nobody got time for that. Plus it’s available on Netflix and I know you all have your parent’s account info so go watch it! And while you are munching your popcorn and becoming more informed and righteously angry with each new statistic, you can keep these thoughts in mind.
The topic that hit closest to home for me, as a story teller, was the fact that women are not given power or autonomy in the stories we all consume. In movies, on television, even in kids shows/films, there is a serious dearth of heroines. When stories are about women they are usually about finding love or romance, or motherhood. There is less variety and complexity among female characters. They are not multi dimensional. They are eye candy, they are sex objects, they are love sick or lonely. Let’s look at an example given in the documentary: The Star Trek franchise. I am talking specifically about the new movies and not any of the series (which for the record show incredible diversity and some amazing female characters in leadership roles. I’m looking at you Captain Janeway!) But the new movies focus primarily on the bromance between Kirk and Spock. Do not misunderstand me, I love a good bromance. I love witty banter and friendship of all kinds. And I enjoyed this movie, and their relationship, a whole lot. But you can’t help but notice that the guys get to be cowboys and misbehave and save the day and be roguishly charming. And what does the main female character, played by Zoe Saldana, do? She is Spock’s love interest. I know I know, who wouldn’t wanna be Zachary Quinto’s main squeeze? And she is wicked smart, so there is at least that. But mostly we watch her kiss him and worry about him. She isn’t involved in the main action, or a part of the film’s major theme; finding one’s destiny. She follows him there. Her destiny is entirely linked to his.
Here is the trailer. Zoe is shown just twice on screen, and the second sighting is a kiss, duh. The guys are, well, being awesome characters.
As you might imagine, the film really is this exact trailer blown out into 2 hours, and I could go on for days about films and TV shows that follow this pattern. My conclusion is that a more diverse group of storytellers is needed. We need women to be creating content. We need you to tell your stories, speak your truth and raise your voice in whatever medium you are passionate about. That is how we are going to get more Hermoine’s on the screen to inspire and empower young girls. (If you wanna argue with me about how incredible that character is I’m happy to do that, but at a later date. Also, she’s fierce and integral to the story and smarter than any other character and sees plenty of danger and action and so if you don’t see how amazing that is then, well, I politely but forcefully dis concur.) We need to read more books by women, see more art created by women, hear more stories by and about women. If kids only read male authors, how much harder is it to imagine that women can write, and write well! If we never see female characters go on quests and discover their destinies, how are we to imagine that we can have adventures in our own lives?
Here is a fun clip about symbolic annihilation and who has power in the media. Board members, directors, heroines… all hard to come by. Rosario Dawson speaks my heart.
So women telling stories is likely to result in stories of women having adventures. Which sort of leads in to the second important point: they don’t want you to see yourself having adventures, or being capable. The content we are shown is controlled, in a very direct way, by the advertisers who want to sell you stuff. And they do this by making everyone feel constantly inadequate. This is true for all people, but women are targeted in particularly vile ways. All of the images we see are meant to be an ‘ideal’ that we should want and work towards, but that ideal is fake. That woman has features and a body determined by genetics, and she spends lots of time and money on physical upkeep. She has a team of stylists, hair and make up experts, and great lighting. And then after all that, she still isn’t good enough, and so that image is digitally altered. Significantly altered. No one looks like that. I repeat: NO ONE LOOKS LIKE THAT. But since we all learn early on that a woman’s worth is inextricably linked to how she looks, we strive. We buy the creams and the whiteners and the hair goop and the push up bra and the stilettos and the diet stuff. And it’s time consuming, financially consuming, and emotionally damaging. And while we are all running around chasing this ideal (which, for the record, is an arbitrary aesthetic determined and disseminated by a select few who are well aware that it is unattainable), the men are running the fucking world.
I’m not saying you are lame if you like to look good. Most people do. Personally, I feel super accomplished and grown up when I’m able to line my lips perfectly on the first try. And having fun with make up, or wanting to look professional for your job or sexy for your partner is not behavior that is all together harmful. But if you are always on a diet, spend hours getting ready, if you feel ugly without make-up or you’re constantly striving to go down a size, then I have a message: you are perfect the way you are. From the moment you get up. The bill of goods they are selling you is horse shit. You don’t need anything that you don’t already possess to be a whole, beautiful, and worthwhile human. And if people in your life make you feel otherwise you should run the hell away from those people and spend time with people who love you unconditionally and want to help you achieve your dreams and not just pick out the perfect outfit to go with those uncomfortable shoes.
So yea, I ranted a little bit there. But it boils down to this: don’t make your appearance the paramount struggle of your days. That is exactly what they (the vague, insidious they) want. Just think of all the time and energy you could save! Time and energy that could go towards discovering your passions and building loving relationships. Let achieving your dreams be the focus, and your lip liner the fun distraction. What a different world we’d be living in if women weren’t so busy trying to be beautiful/thin/successful/lovable/perfect all the time, and instead were focusing on their own love and adventures. And if your true calling is in any way about communication or story telling, then be fierce and true to yourself and don’t let your voice be drowned out. And if you have younger family members or work with kids, mentor those girls and show them that there is more to life than waiting for a prince while wearing the right dress. There are adventures to be had and new friends to be made and experiences to share. If we don’t see ourselves this way, we will continue to be disenfranchised and underrepresented.
Go watch it, comment with your thoughts/fav parts or whatever. And coming soon there is a new documentary from these same folks about how men are affected by the harmful and limiting portrayals of masculinity, and I am AMPED.