By Gianna Diventura
CCC Journalism Program
CHERRY HILL – The 2011 documentary Miss Representation was the main event at Wednesday night’s installment of the Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility’s Intro to Feminism mini-course. Miss Representation is an award-winning documentary that exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America.
The film, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, features interviews with successful and influential women, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, News Anchor Rachel Maddow, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Entertainer Margaret Cho and News Anchor Katie Couric, along with interviews with teenage girls. The film draws attention to the fact that media heavily influence not only people’s attitudes toward females, but also the way girls and women see themselves and their value.
Wednesday night’s class, called Look Pretty, Be Quiet and Stay Small: Women and Girls in the Media, consisted of 10 women and one man. One of the women, Katherine Perloff, said she took the mini-course because, “I’m interested in how it looks today looking back. When you’ve been through something, you don’t always have that perspective.” Now in her later years, she said she is reflecting on the past.
Before showing the documentary, instructor Kristina Myers showed a PowerPoint presentation that contained the vocabulary words objectification, commodification and infantilization to help explain topics discussed in the film. Objectification is the term used to describe the act of treating women like objects, especially in television, movies and advertising. Commodification means turning people into items for sale. Infantilization means treating people as immature.
In the documentary, Jean Kilbourne declares, “Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person.” From there the film presents statistics about the high rates of violence American girls and women experience, including the fact that one in six women is a survivor of rape or attempted rape.
The bulk of the 90-minute documentary is interviews and presentation of facts and statistics, while the last few minutes are a call to action that articulates how everyone has the power to influence a change in the representation of women in the media.
Myers has been teaching the course at community colleges for eight years, this year being the first at Camden County College. She has worked for 16 years at the Alice Paul Institute, a non-profit organization that strives to achieve gender equality, in Mount Laurel. The institute also hosts leadership programs for middle and high school girls.
Myers defines feminism as “ordinary equality,” a quote she credits to Alice Paul. “I don’t want anything more than what men have or anything less,” Myers explained. “I want everyone to be equal – equal access, judged fairly, be seen for merit and not just as within their gender.”
She said she believes one of the most important messages she communicates through the class is the notion that American women don’t “have it made” like people tend to believe. “It’s important to show representation of women, in politics especially, and the rates of violence against women in the U.S. One in four women will be victims of domestic or gender-based violence.”
That statistic, and many similar, are in Miss Representation, including the rising rates of plastic surgery, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self-harm, depression and low self-esteem in women and how media exposure is causing these phenomena to affect girls younger than ever.