NZFF: Miss Representation

by Mr Wainscotting

See this film.


I’ve never watched a documentary that drew so many gasps from the audience. Nor have I watched a documentary that made me cry — this one did. (Yes, I cried. You can list all your favourite over-emotional, “PMSing” gay guy jokes on a piece of paper and place it neatly in the toilet).

Normally, I’d mark a film down if it wasn’t technically up to scratch, but I quickly forgot about the editing and presentation, because the content was just so powerful. Mr Wainscotting’s rating: 6/5 (as in, should be compulsory viewing).

The one thing to note about the doco, is that it’s about media in the USA and it’s for a US audience. That does not, however, stop it resonating here, and the only thing that is really any different, is that women have slightly better pay parity than their American counterparts.

The documentary contrasted the portrayal of women in the media — from television, to print; in advertising, reality tv; and in politics — with some truly shocking statistics about the rates of depression and eating disorders amongst girls and young women, as well as the pay gap and many other negative things. The implication being that the former is causing the latter.

I knew this stuff was happening, that the media treat women as props for men to eye-fuck. I knew that women have a much much harder time gaining a position of power, of being treated as people with opinions instead of just as legs, tits, and arse. I knew that society measures the value of a woman in her ability to induce boners in men (but be considered filthy sluts for doing so). But to see it all placed in front of me, on the silver screen, from a women’s perspective, made it all so very clear.

More than half the population of the country are not given a voice, and their only representation in the media is impossible to emulate or maintain, and the behaviour of women in reality tv or on sitcoms is often self-destructive or catty or bitchy. Women in politics are judged first on their appearance, analysing every little detail first, then their behaviour and decorum, and their abilities as mothers, before their abilities and opinions are even considered.

The result of this? Young women are racked with anxiety and body-dismorphic issues, and young men grow up thinking that women are there purely for their entertainment.

The doco showed a lot of “news”-casters and radio pundits who were spouting all kinds of misogynist rhetoric, that we may normally not notice or simply take for granted (I’m guessing that men are more likely to not notice), but when it’s all lined up before us, it’s a shocking indictment of men’s treatment of women. Of course, there were the usual suspects — the Rush Limbaugh’s, the Bill O’Reilly’s, etc. — but there were also a few that I didn’t expect. I have to say, that after watching this film, I’ve lost a lot of respect for such greats as Penn Jillette and Christopher Hitchens, men I expected to be on the more noble side of this debate were dabbling in exactly the same vagina-shaming of female politicians as the disgusting Rush Limbaugh. To be fair, the quotes were cherry-picked, but they still totally said what they said, using the fact that the politicians in question are women instead of using the impartial rationality that those have built their careers on.

Watch this documentary. If you miss it (or have missed it) at the Film Festival, track down a DVD or something. It’s not just recommended viewing, it’s compulsory.


6 thoughts on “NZFF: Miss Representation

  1. Great review! I saw it in Wellington and even though I consider myself knowledgable in this area it was still really confronting to me. I want this film played in every school in New Zealand. It’s just so powerful. And you’re so right about Penn Jillette and Christopher Hitchens, I was not impressed at all.

  2. Add Richard Dawkins to that list too, over the Rebecca Watson sexism in atheism debate. He’s also be a complete arse towards women (eg: calling Wanda Syke an unfunny lesbo).

    I would love to see this doco.

    • Was very unimpressed at Dawkins, but he wasn’t in the doco. Was flipping through The God Delusion again the other day, and I noticed he called feminist theologians “ditzily unreal”. An academic of his stature surely knows precisely what he’s writing down, and to claim he doesn’t get how it’s offensive is such a cop out.

  3. Thanks for the review! I agree, as USA-focused as the film is, its core messages about gender imbalance and the need for media literacy are still very relevant here in NZ.

    Personal highlights were seeing Laura Ling, Jane Fonda & Gloria Steinem sayin’ it like it is. Geena Davis is doing great work. Only bit I didn’t like was cutting to a shot of ‘I Love Lucy’ when discussing housewives – Lucille Ball was a business woman who didn’t have kids til she was in her 40s!

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