Miss Representation: A round table discussion with our girls

On Thursday night, J and I took our girls (along with a couple of friends and their daughters) to a screening at McGill of the film Miss Representation, a documentary about how women are portrayed in the media.

It was hosted by Media@McGill and the Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies and it cost nothing to attend (thank you McGill). The screening was at five, and it took some doing to get us all there. We had a meeting at my youngest’s school at 7:00. My oldest had a test the next day. There is Montreal traffic and construction.

But it was important. Although we have been pretty vigilant about watching TV shows and movies with the girls and talking to them about what we are watching (wow- it must be really hard to move in such tight leather. Or why couldn’t she just tell the guy to f*&*& off?) they are starting to watch shows I won’t watch with them due to the sheer asinine unbearability of them. Pretty little liars is the crap du jour in my house:

Oh, I did watch the first episode. I commented on the fact that these so-called friends kept stabbing each other in the back. That for sixteen-year olds they sure look like twenty something socialites. That their only concern is their social status. That having an affair with your teacher is portrayed in a sympathetic light. Shoplifting. That being gay is supposed to be a dirty little secret.

But they still want to watch it and I don’t believe censoring is the way to deal with this.

My friends feel the same way and are just as concerned. So. Our en masse trip to the film Miss Representation.

The movie itself gave us nothing new. It could have been made twenty years ago, things have changed so little in mainstream media. The film maker frames it with her personal story which in my opinion was unnecessary and took something away from the movie. It is also extremely American- speaking about women in government (the whole portrayal of Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin- the bitch and the ditz thing) and mostly about Hollywood Blockbusters. They talk about how in media women are either the bitch or the sex kitten (See poor Hilary and Sarah again) and there is rarely any in-between. Even our lovable, leather clad superheroes are glorified “fighting fuck toys”.

It felt a little like watching a Micheal Moore documentary. I agree with the message but can’t help feeling I am being fed a large spoonful of propaganda. It was definitely ignoring many of the very good TV shows coming out over the past ten years that have extremely complex, nuanced female characters. Oh as well as many other maybe less mainstream but still very popular American movies.

But still. Facts about how the sparsity of women in positions of power are hard to ignore.  How other women are a big part of the obstacle. How the attitude that we are always competing against each other is keeping us down.

However as an entry point into a meaningful discussion with our tween and teen girls, it was invaluable.

Although we couldn’t have the discussion right away( see above school meeting hell) we gathered last night at our house for a group discussion. Present were my daughter and three of their friends – two 13 year olds, one 12 year old and two 10 going on 11 year -olds). The adults in the group included two men- J and G, another father, and two other women besides me. One of my friends had written down some questions in order to mediate the discussion.

We started out with “How did the movie make you feel?”

Silence. Then:

-I don’t want to start.

-You start.

So the adults began and soon enough we had a discussion going. The answers ranged from:

“inspired” – that women could rise above all the crap they see and do something positive.

“Scared”- the movie had its share of shock value with a montage of headlines reporting about Rapes and violence against women.

“Angry”- How things haven’t changed.

The discussion warmed up.

The girls had a lot of good points and though it got a little heavy for them at times, I think they were all into it (especially the older of the two).

The men had valuable contributions as they are also being targeted by the media. They are also being told that this is how men should want their women. G mentioned about how it made him feel guilty. J mentioned how it is all about money- Big Media’s only goal is to make money so they broadcast what they think will sell. An interesting point made in the movie is that women will watch something regardless, while men are a harder audience to grab (unless you throw in some buxom blond running in a bikini. Then they are hooked apparently). No. That parenthesis was not J’s point.

We talked about body image and objectification and how they can choose to not play that game. That they are living in a world now where they can make up their own media- make their own rules. We talked about how hard it is to adopt the “I don’t care what you think of me” attitude. That even though we know it is ridiculous, it still hurts when people comment on our bodies.

I also confessed to my own judgmental attitude- how it was hard for me to take the personal story of this director who happened to be a tall, thin, blonde actress (that is not fair, I know). The girls started talking about how many of the panelists were gorgeous young women, who wore makeup and wore the same clothes as we see everywhere. At first they thought this was hypocritical, but then we started talking about why we dress up. Why we want to wear makeup. They finally came to the conclusion themselves that it is possible to like all the “girly” stuff and still be smart.

All in all, a good discussion.

We are definitely going to do this again. We are planning a viewing of Play Again for our next meeting and the one after that we will get together to discuss the book, The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis.

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