There’s a new documentary out called “Miss Representation“, about how women are portrayed in “the media”. I was reading about it in this Daily Beast article, which quotes the film’s director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom saying that through “the media”:
“‘We are teaching young women that their worth lies in their youth, their beauty and their sexuality, not in their capacity to lead.'”
It’s an interesting point, and I agree with the general thrust of the article, but I have some quibbles. First, a language issue: I wish they wouldn’t say “the media” when they mean “television and film”. There are other media besides those. But then, people say this all the time. I myself am probably guilty.
In this case, however, it’s important to note specifically what media we’re talking about. Television and film being visual media, it goes without saying that they will place an emphasis on the appearance of everything they depict.
Is this realistic? No, but to some extent this is to be expected. These are media where it is easy to get away with being shallow. Note that I do not say that all television programs and films are shallow, or that they do not serve worthy purposes, but only that it is possible to get away with being shallow in them.
If you’re somebody who has some mediocre idea for a television program, for instance, what’s the easiest way to make it sell: hone and improve it until it is thoughtful and well-written, or get some attractive female to carry out your existing, mediocre concept?
And it’s not just women–though women do suffer more of the burden than men, primarily because men are more visual than women, and so television is slightly biased in men’s favor–who are affected by this. Whatever the thing in question is, in visual media, the path of least resistance is to focus on the most visually appealing aspects. This is true even for the most serious, educational film and television, which is why there are more programs about astronomy than about mathematics.
So, yes, it is absolutely true, “the media” in general does offer a very distorted picture of women. But here’s the thing: it offers a distorted picture of most stuff. And here’s another thing: I think most young women are smart enough to figure this out. I’ve read somewhere that young women mature intellectually faster than young men, and even as a young boy I knew that most things on television were ludicrously inaccurate. I suspect, therefore, that young women are smart enough to know that, as well.
P.S. Whenever I write about issues like this, I’m worried I’ll offend people accidentally. If something I wrote above upsets you, by all means mention it in the comments, and know that I was not out to offend.