When a friend of mine, who works in advertising as a Media Planner, informed me about an exclusive film screening for the documentary Miss Representation, I watched the trailer, and immediately became so excited.  I mean just thrilled.  You would’ve thought Prince was back in town the way I was carrying on.  Well, almost.  Anyway, I spread the word, and crossed the days off my calendar until the date, Monday, November 14th, finally arrived.  At last!  I get to witness this premiere presentation, written, directed, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, exposing the misogynistic misrepresentation of womyn and girls in the media, and how these perils of patriarchy have led to the underrepresentation of womyn in politics, leadership roles, and other positions of power.  And, I get to be part of a special Question & Answer (Q&A) Session with the director Mrs. Jennifer Siebel Newsom herself?  Fabulous!

So the day of, I began to “mentally prepare” for my “film screening debut”.  I thought to myself, “should I wear makeup?”  I gave this self-quandary some serious consideration.  I then told myself, with a (false) sense of conviction, “Yes, I should, since it’s a special event and all…”  Amidst this “makeup dilemma”, there was of course, another critical decision to attend to: “what am I gonna wear?”  I had already noted feeling “fat” that day, so as I sifted through my wardrobe, I distinctively recall thinking “no, I can’t wear that—or that—that’s gonna make me look fat”, then finally deciding on an outfit that I still felt would make me appear “fat”, yet making an agreement with myself to “just keep this sweater on the entire night (to camouflage my fatness).”  In the end, I made the following self-proclamation: “Today is Just a Fat Day.”

Later, as the day progressed, as is often the case with me, I realized I was a running behind schedule if I were to make it to the showing on time, if not early.  I was almost out the door when I suddenly realized, “I forgot to put on makeup!”  A flurry of Plan B’s flittered through my brain.  “Damn!  Well, if I run upstairs and do it now, even real quick, I might be late…um…I can bring my makeup bag with me and do it on the train (as usual)…no, it’s not gonna fit in this purse I’m bringing, and I don’t have time to decipher which makeup to bring…*sigh*  You know what?  I’m just not gonna wear any makeup today!  It’s San Francisco after all, right…?  Yeah!”

I bring all this internal dialogue into the picture of my examination of Miss Representation precisely because of the particular kind of motion picture that it is: one specifically designed to shine a spotlight on the excessive, and often unhealthy ways in which womyn are viewed—and view themselves—based on their appearance.  As a proud womyn of Afrikan descent (Read: Angry Black Womyn) and Feminist (Yeah, I said it!), I am appalled, though not surprised, by my own obsessive—and clearly neurotic—thoughts surrounding beauty.  The evermore critical point to make here, though, is that there is nothing “novel” about these thoughts of mine, as in, they are indeed all too common.  In fact, I venture to say that for the average womyn, there would’ve been no “quandary”: the makeup would simply be put on prior to leaving the home.  Period.  Truth be told, as alarming as my thoughts may seems in print, and believe me, they do, they are nothing in comparison to the mental conditionings of millions of girls and womyn right here in the US, as well as the world over.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my amble bosom—I mean chest, let us proceed to the screening.  It took place at the PG&E Atrium, near The Embarcadero of San Francisco, in partnership with the PG&E Women’s Network, and hosted by AT&T, as part of the United Way Leadership Speaker Series.  Ironically, that sure is a lot of corporate backing for a film that is highly critical of corporations, and actively, as Jennifer Siebel Newsom said, “calls a spade a spade.”  Of course, the producers of Miss Representation have been selective as to which corporations are aligned with this film, which first broadcast on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.  The CEO of United Way of the Bay Area, and both Co-Chairs of the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, for example, are all womyn, who were present and representin’ at the film presentation and subsequent discussion.

Nearly thirty minutes past the scheduled start time (after I made it to the show both early and makeup-less!) the film finally begins.  A hush falls over the crowd as the lights dim.  Soon, a wave of statistics and swift images fill the screen.  The music and mood become soothing, nostalgic.  Then, you hear the soft and steady voice, and deliberate deliverance of Jennifer Siebel Newsom, our storyteller for the evening.   She gives you a synopsis of her intriguing life story, woven throughout the 90-minute film, beginning with her childhood joys and tragedies, continuing on to development of her career, social consciousness, children of her own, family, and sense of self, leading up to where she stands today.  In this vein, the strident filmmaker’s life journey sets the stage for the makings of Miss Representation as she realizes her life experiences and self-perceptions have been shaped by and large by mainstream media, namely TV, radio, film, news—papers and makers, magazines, music videos, video games, advertising, marketing, and major corporations who are endlessly driven by capitalism, and typically “corporate greed”.

I think Michael Eisner, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, said it best in his infamous Internal Memo:

“We have no obligation to make history.

We have no obligation to make art.

We have no obligation to make a statement.

To make money is our only objective.”

Nice.  It’s a small world after all.

If you haven’t noticed, sex sells—well.  After Mark S. Fowler, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the heyday of Ronald “Reaganomics” (1981-87), who famously referred to television as, “just another appliance – (a) toaster with pictures,” loosened up regulations on “family-friendly content” during primetime, our TV sets really did become “boob tubes”.  From the “Blond Ambition” of the 90s, to the new millennium’s “Girls Gone Wild”, through the present day, TV has become more and more of a sex-filled free-for-all, both on cable and network stations, during TV shows and commercials, whether it’s 3am or 3pm.

Fruitions like these flash through the film incessantly, in a whirl-winding combination of stimulating and stinging social commentaries, racy, and raunchy imagery, and staggering statistics.  It is at once overwhelming and awe-inspiring to witness this, along with the rousing realizations of “heavy-hitters” such as: Gloria Steinem, the famous political activist and Goddess of the Womyn’s Liberation Movement; Journalist and former Co-Host of The View Lisa Ling; Katie Couric, the first female Anchor of the CBS Evening News; former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; and Comedienne Margaret Cho just to name a few.  Perhaps even more impressive were the observations and outcries from the voices of our future: high school students.  The film kicks off with an awesome quote from a girl named Ariella, who, in regards to the media, states plainly, “(there is) no place for womyn intellectuals.”

Well, after taking a gander at just a handful of the statistics Miss Representation hits us with, not to mention the severely sexualized scenes from TV commercials, hip hop music videos, and the series of elongated clips of former “Gospel Singer” Jessica Simpson, gyrating—in slow motion—nearly nude, in the film remake of The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), young Ariella’s statement should come as no surprise.

To draw attention to some of these “numbers”, I ask now, did you know that:

  • By age 13, 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies?
  • 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors?
  • 1 out of 4 womyn will experience domestic violence in her lifetime?
  • 1 in 4 college womyn have either been dated raped or suffered attempted date rape?
  • Only 3% of womyn hold clout positions in the mainstream media?
  • Only 16% of all major film directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors are womyn?
  • Womyn make up 51% of the population?
  • The United States still ranks 90th in the world for women in national legislatures?
  • 2011 is the first year since 1979 that womyn have not gained seats in Congress?!?

Despite these grim reports, Pat Mitchell, CEO of the Paley Center for Media, provides a positive stat to enact: “we have enormous power. Eighty-six percent of the purchasing power in this country is in the pockets of women. Well, let’s use it.”  Or, if you prefer, you can strive to be, as Dr. Caroline Heldman, Ph.D. puts it, a “Fighting F*ck Toy”, like the few female protagonists in your standard sexy-violence-adventure action flicks.  (Think Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2, Halle Berry in Catwoman, or even Angelina Jolie as Salt—I must admit, even I felt “empowered” seeing Angelina in that one!)

Rest assured that there are great quotes and comments made by men in this come-to-grips documentary as well.  Yes, by men.  Real Men.  Even “Men-Feminists”.  (Yes, they do exist!)  Case in point: Jackson Katz.  Known as an “anti-sexist activist”, Kats created the outstanding documentary Tough Guise: Men, Violence and the Crisis in Masculinity, and speaks wisely about how much this misrepresentation of womyn hurts boys and men too.  A High school boy named Calvin, for instance, tells us he does not support the misogyny of the media, and later advises: “Don’t be afraid to challenge your friends.”

Another real man who spoke real eloquently in Miss Representation is Gavin Newsom.  That’s former San Francisco Mayor, now Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom.  Did I mention that Gavin and Jennifer Siebel Newsom are married?  Did I also mention that I happen to have met Mr. Lieutenant Governor of California Gavin Newsom in the flesh (before his current post), and that I found him to be even dreamier in person?  No, I did not (until just now).  Why?  Because I do not wish to a) perpetuate the stereotype that womyn, such as Siebel Newsom, must always blab on about, or define themselves by, their husbands, or b) objectify the Lieutenant Governor.  Though he is a handsome hunk, it’s really Newsom’s words that steal the show, as he defends his decision to have appointed San Francisco’s first female fire chief and first female police chief as Mayor, and uses the word “dehumanization” to describe the blatant mistreatment of womyn in the media.  I personally LOVE the way Siebel Newsom mentions him, in both the film, and during the Q&A Session, simply—and sparingly—as “my husband”.

When asked during the Q&A portion about the kind of society, and world, she wishes to see, Jennifer Siebel Newsom said, “we want to see a culture that lifts us all up…that values the feminine…both men and womyn have those qualities… (a culture) that values womyn.” She stressed how this uplifted culture she envisions would be a beneficial environment for both her 5 month old son Hunter and 2 year old daughter Montana, making it clear, “this is not a Women’s Movement, it’s a Human Rights Movement,” and declaring that, “we are going to take our country back!”  Executive Producer Regina Kulik Scully, who was also on stage with Siebel Newsom for the Q&A, encouraged a woman from the audience who had concerns about being a mother with political aspirations, “…instead of saying ‘I can’t make this (family-work-life balance) work’; we need to say I can make this work, I will (make this work)!”

Since I got shafted during the Q&A Session—I mean time ran out—and I didn’t get to ask my question, I took the liberty to ask the male two seats next to me, “what do men think of all this?”  The answer this nice guy gave me had to do with going beyond the slightly defensive reaction of “what can I do about it?” and instead clearing your mind like the “blank slate” practice of Tabula Rasa.  (I said we were in San Francisco, didn’t I?)  His reply was pretty profound, though totally atypical in comparison to the average American dude.  Turns out this fellow, a lovely lad working in Market Research, and I were both taking the same train home, so we continued our discussion, demonstrating the whole purpose of Miss Representation according to Siebel Newsom herself, which is “to start the conversation.”

Upon finally making it back to my car, Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful” came on the radio.  It was a great way to end what began as such a self-objectifying day.  As I sang at the top of my lungs, “I am beautifu-u-u-ul, in every single waaaay… No, words won’t bring me-e-e do-ooo-own…So don’t you bring me do-ooown, ooooh-ooh-ooh, to-daaaaay,” I knew I was singing to the “me” that was going to “Take the Pledge” at http://missrepresentation.org/.  I suggest you do as well, and as Mahatma Gandhi stated, and Jennifer Siebel Newsom urges through her work, “be the change you wish to see.”