Has the way women are represented in media (movies, television shows, ads, newscasts, and talk shows) improved in the last decade?
The documentary Miss Representation, produced in 2011 by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, had a huge impact on me and many others. The film reveals and attacks the negative and limiting images of girls and women, particularly in media. It attacks the objectification of women in ads. It demonstrates the differences in the nature of comments about women vs. men news reporters and political candidates. Siebel Newsom later founded and leads The Representation Project with the goal of eliminating gender stereotypes of both girls and boys.
Another organization focused on changing stereotypical views of women was The White House Project. Led by Marie Wilson (former president of the Ms. Foundation) from 1998 until 2011, this organization encouraged and supported women to run for office – any office – with a goal of changing the primarily male image of political leadership. And it brought pressure on television and cable networks to invite women to appear as experts on news and talk shows. The Project celebrated the television series, Commander in Chief, which featured a woman President of the U.S. and (sadly) had a short run.
Another organization, The Women’s Media Center, trains women and girls to be “media savvy,” promotes media content by women writers and monitors and exposes “media sexism.”
My observation is that there has been a slight but positive shift in how women are portrayed in media. I see powerful women anchors on respected television news shows, e.g., the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week, and some of the morning network news programs. I see more women experts on the Sunday morning talk shows. It appears to me that there are fewer inappropriate comments on the appearance of women candidates (like the one about Carly Fiorina’s face).
My view may well be influenced by what I choose to watch. A friend told me recently about the phenomenon of the “Housewife” series. Admittedly my research on this was pretty limited, but it appears these shows portray beautiful women as rude, mean and backbiting. The fact there are still popular shows that portray women negatively – and continued remarks about the appearance of women in the public eye — doesn’t mean there is no progress. And it isn’t as if there are no negative images of men in media! We often see male movie and television characters that are mean, ignorant, slovenly, criminal, or self-centered.
I worry more about the impact on all women and girls of the negative media images of them. In terms of power, they are “minorities,” and minorities often get painted with the same brush as the worst among them. Men, particularly white men, are less likely to be painted with the same brush as their unappealing brethren.
Do you see progress in how women are portrayed? What can we do to promote continue progress? I, for one, will continue to choose to watch the NewsHour and not films or shows that demean women. And I will ask people to watch Miss Representation and follow its suggestions, to take the pledge at The Representation Project and to follow The Women’s Media Center!