Miss Representation, exactly what it says on the tin

As Pádraig McCarrick shamelessly plugged FemSoc’s screening of Miss Representation, I felt it was necessary to give a feminist critique of the film.

Miss Representation is written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and the movie endeavours to highlight the lack of women in political and media institutions in the United States. The movie explores how the media perpetuates a patriarchal discourse aided and abetted by an advertising industry that remains unchallenged in the ways in which it models the ideals of both femininity and masculinity. The movie describes the adverse effects that the media discourse is having on women’s lives, most tellingly with the rapid rise in instances of different forms of violence and discrimination against women.

Miss Representation shows women who have managed to break through these barriers and has them share their stories, as well as having contributions from a group of high school students who manage to give the best critical analysis of ways in which the media effects their social world.

The film tries to cover its bases by ticking certain boxes with regard to representation, and so there are contributions from Asian women, Black Women, and Lesbian Women. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t do any of the contributors much justice by failing to examine the ways that race, ethnicity, and sexuality as well as being a woman impacts on their experiences in modern society. There is no discussion of class whatsoever and the movie is told from a completely middle class, US centred perspective. This lack of class/ethnic/racial/ sexual representation, was one of the biggest criticism of Second Wave Feminism, and it is most disheartening to see it happening again in what this film refers so as a so called ‘post feminist’ era.

Notably, the presence of Condaleeza Rice sat uneasily with most audience members at the screening. I believe that she was there in the movie to fulfil the motto that it promoted “You can’t be what you can’t see”, in that she was a black woman who had ascended the political ranks and was a prominent member of the Bush administration as  Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor. Ironically her actions in this role did untold damage to nameless, faceless women in Iraq and Afghanistan. While at the same time at home promoting a right wing neo liberal agenda that tried aggressively to push back the gains made by the feminist movement.

At the end of the movie, there is an advertisement for different ways in which you can support the campaign to try and influence policy changes. I would argue that this is a safe approach that merely panders to the middle class perspective of the movie. I would argue that a more direct approach would gain more traction. Dr. Sinéad Kennedy criticised this motif arguing that it somewhat reduced us all to consumers of media and that a change in our patterns of consumption were all that was needed to enact change. Ailbhe Smyth spoke about how there were pictures of feminist marches and how they were seen as things of the past.

I would argue that a combination of both these would be a better approach. Yes indeed, boycott news agencies that portray women as sexual objects, but don’t stop there. Complain to Government bodies, complain to public representatives, get other people involved. Get out onto the streets if need be. Sending a text message of support is not enough, there needs to be action if there is to be any change.

Feminism is not just for women, and as the movie highlights, patriarchy serves neither genders’ interests’. Have men get involved as allies. If they are the representative majority, then it might as well be used to the feminist advantage to get the message across.

Miss Representation would appear to have more positives than negatives, but I do welcome the idea of a feminist critique on the modern media. It gets a dialogue going, and after all, everything has to start somewhere.

Leonie Delaney

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3 thoughts on “Miss Representation, exactly what it says on the tin

  1. Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor, not Secretary of Defence

  2. Thanks Leonie for a great analysis of the film and summary of some of the main discussion points on the night itself.
    It was very inspiring to have such discourse taking place on campus. Let’s hope that the forthcoming year can properly build on FemSoc’s newly established presence at NUIM.
    It is quite clear that more debates of this nature are necessary if equality and diversity is to get on the agenda!

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